UPDATE: The Texas Supreme Court has now granted a motion to release Luther following Abbott’s announcement that he has amended his executive order. No word yet on whether that also applies to Castro-Garcia and Mata in Laredo.
Declaring that “Criminals shouldn’t be released [from jail] to prevent COVID-19 just to put business owners in their place,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced this morning (Thursday, May 7), that he is amending his recent executive orders to eliminate the possibility of jail time for those who violate those orders.
Abbott also stressed that his order supersedes any local orders.
His announcement comes in the wake of public uproar over Dallas District Judge Eric Moye’s decision to send hair salon owner Shelley Luther to jail for seven days for violating Abbott’s order by opening her Salon A La Mode in Far North Dallas on Friday, May 1, and for tearing up the citations she was issued.
On Wednesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton threw gasoline on that already-raging fire by sending a letter to Moye chastising the judge for sentencing Luther to jail and insisting she be released. Wednesday evening, a group of Dallas County district judges, including Moye, responded to Paxton by pointing out that his letter represented unethical and illegal ex parte communication with the court, while Dallas City Councilman Omar Narvaez also scolded Paxton for his actions.
Abbott said in a statement this morning, “Throwing Texans in jail who have had their businesses shut down through no fault of their own is nonsensical, and I will not allow it to happen.” He added that the amendment to his order is retroactive to April 2, which would effectively nullify charges against Luther and her jail sentence.
“As some county judges advocate for releasing hardened criminals from jail to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it is absurd to have these business owners take their place,” he said.
While ensuring that Luther will be released, Abbott said the amendment “may also ensure” that individuals charged with similar violations would be exonerated, too. That appears to refer to two Laredo women, Ana Isabel Castro-Garcia and Brenda Stephanie Mata, who were arrested and charged with violating their community’s emergency management plan in April by offering to provide salon services in their homes to individuals who turned out to be undercover officers operating a sting.
Abbott’s announcement did not address fines related to violating his executive order. Luther was fined $7,000 — an amount which was apparently paid for by Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. At least three GoFundMe pages were set up to benefit Luther, who had already received Small Business Administration loan for COVID-19 relief; those pages indicated Luther’s supporters have donated in excess of $400,000 total.
Castro-Garcia and Mata were fined $2,000 each; there’s been no word on whether Patrick or some other Texas state official is going to pay their fines, too.
Here is the full text of Abbott’s statement, as it was published on the governor’s Facebook page:
“Throwing Texans in jail who have had their businesses shut down through no fault of their own is nonsensical, and I will not allow it to happen. That is why I am modifying my executive orders to ensure confinement is not a punishment for violating an order. This order is retroactive to April 2nd, supersedes local orders and if correctly applied should free Shelley Luther. It may also ensure that other Texans like Ana Isabel Castro-Garcia and Brenda Stephanie Mata who were arrested in Laredo, should not be subject to confinement. As some county judges advocate for releasing hardened criminals from jail to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it is absurd to have these business owners take their place.”