I have butted heads with Mike Fields, judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law Number 14, more than once, and found him a worthy adversary. He is a big guy, imposing both physically and in personality, and he’ll push you around if you let him. That rubs a lot of people the wrong way. But if you push back, he will yield when you show him he’s wrong,1 and shake hands afterward.
Now, citing his conscience, Fields has defected from the judges’ appeal of the bail lawsuit. (As I had said it was time to do.)
The appeal continues, but Fields’s defection gives the other fourteen judges who remain in it some both motivation and cover to defect as well. It’s like a multiple-defendant federal criminal trial: the fewer defendants remain standing, the more quickly the numbers dwindle. Nobody wanted to be the first to defect (that’s the cover) but everybody really doesn’t want to be the last (that’s the motivation).
There is considerable skepticism—which I share—in the criminal-defense bar about whether the judges’ counsel are lying to the court on behalf of their clients when they pretend that county judges had not directed the activity of hearing officers in refusing personal bonds to people who could not otherwise afford to make bail. If that skepticism is correct, it becomes increasingly likely with each additional defection that someone will drop the dime on the judges remaining in the suit.
The judges, I have heard, have an email-retention policy that mandates erasure of emails after two weeks.2 Each subsequent defection makes it increasingly likely that someone who saved, against a rainy day, an email or notes that contradict the story they are telling Judge Rosenthal.
And if that happens, the parallels to a multiple-defendant federal criminal prosecution are going to become even more apparent.
At the hearing on Tuesday, Judge Fields was sitting with Judge Jordan and Judge Standley, apart from their thirteen colleagues.
With Jordan and Fields out, I predict that Standley, a man of conscience if ever there was one, will be the next judge to do the right thing.