May 13, 2020

Mob Rule

Texas Governor Sparks Reverse Uprising Amid Claims of Travesty in Case
with Racial and Partisan Undertones, Flimflamming and Illegal Beauty Shops

MIKE HAILEY

Governor Greg Abbott opened up a massive can of worms last week when he rushed to the defense of a Dallas hair salon owner who'd flaunted her defiance of coronavirus emergency orders and a pair of Laredo beauticians who'd been operating illegally.

After receiving strong public support for the actions that the state has taken during the coronavirus crisis, Abbott effectively issued an open invitation for people in Texas to break the law of the land that he'd imposed in an attempt to slow the spread of the disease across the state.

In a move that appeared to be a spontaneous reaction to a Texas Supreme Court ruling, Abbott declared that no one in the state could be jailed for violations of the emergency restrictions that he's had in place for more than a month. Abbott had apparently had a heads-up on the high court plans to order the release of Shelley Luther from the Dallas County jail where she'd been held overnight after repeatedly refusing to close her beauty shop in compliance with a gubernatorial directive and flaunting her defiance in social media posts and a protest demonstration appearance.

The Republican governor had given local officials explicit permission to incarcerate emergency order offenders for as long as 180 days before expressing shock and disgust at the height of the furor in the staged Luther case that a jurist would have the audacity to actually enforce an emergency order that he'd implemented. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had blasted State District Judge Eric Moyé a day earlier for sentencing Luther to a week in jail after giving her numerous chances to keep herself free by complying with state law that Abbott had created.

While Abbott sought to take credit for Luther's liberation in a move aimed at appeasing critics on the hard right, the governor is being accused now of making a mockery of the rule of law by portraying Luther as a hero and Moyé as a villain for attempting to enforce the executive edict that had temporarily shuttered her nonessential business.

The tempest that Abbott has ignited has intensified with the intervention of the American Board of Trial in Moyé's defense as a group of attorneys that's been associated with famed trial lawyer Gerry Spence. The group that includes about 8,000 members across the country voted unanimously to rally behind the judge in the wake of a rhetorical assault that they perceive as a monumental travesty for the sake of political grandstanding.

The organization contends that any judge who refused to sanction a defendant for steadfastly refusing to abide by the law would be derelict in the duties they swore to uphold. Dallas-area attorney Marquette Wolf, the American Board of Trial Advocates president, said the group is attempting to defend the principle of an independent judiciary with its support for Moyé.

“Not long after, Attorney General Ken Paxton and others began to lead a chorus of criticism, but not of the law breaker," the statement on the Dallas judge's behalf asserted. "Instead, they criticized Judge Moyé, the law upholder. We strongly believe that the criticism of Judge Moyé is unfounded, unfair and ultimately counterproductive to the rule of law.

The governor cited the Luther case in the gutting of the executive edict that had been the centerpiece of the state's defense against the coronavirus - and he mentioned Ana Isabel Castro-Garcia and Brenda Stephanie Mata as well as a pair of Laredo residents who hadn't been trying to get arrested like the central figure in the Dallas set up.

The women had been arrested three weeks earlier and held for several hours at the Webb County jail after being booked on charges of violating local emergency ordinances in a case that could have culminated in 180 days behind bars if Abbott hadn't erased the threat of enforcement from the pandemic requirements.

Abbott hasn't said publicly whether he knew that the women in the border city were running nail and eyelash salons in private residents without cosmetology licenses and advertising their services on social media. But that's an issue that the state will have to either resolve or ignore now that the chief prosecutor in Webb County has announced that the women there will not be prosecuted.

The governor's injection of himself into the dispute that Luther had initiated and fueled has set the stage for accusations of potential racism and partisan targeting in light of the fact that Moyé is an African-American Democrat. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins had been a high-ranking Democratic activist before his election to his current post.

Abbott will be hoping now that more conservatives who've been highly critical of the emergency restrictions will attempt to see how far the envelope can be pushed in a test of the constitutional authority that the state's top leader has during a public health emergency like the COVID-19 crisis.

CONSIDER THE SOURCE

Mike Hailey presents state politics with a personal touch. He's the only Texas Capitol journalist who's been to the dark side and back - having worked for two major newspaper bureaus before signing on as press secretary for Bob Bullock - the most powerful and legendary political leader of his time in the state. Hailey's Comment, which is published in Capitol Inside on a regular basis, is a direct reflection of that experience.

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