We live in a democracy, and our courts should reflect the values of our community. Instead, the courts now are controlled by former prosecutors who do the bidding of police and prosecutors from the bench. No one, especially not the most powerful, should get special treatment in the courts. Our courts should work for us, not for police and prosecutors.
Hundreds of thousands of people have pleaded guilty in Harris County over the years just to get out of jail. They did so because a judge ordered them detained just because they could not afford bail. No one should make a life decision, like the possibility of a criminal record, under those conditions. The plea mill in Harris County must be dismantled, by setting policies that favor pre-trial release.
We have a family separation crisis in Harris County. Judges presiding over the most minor offenses have built a system that locks people in cages for minor offenses, and then makes them plead guilty to get out of jail. If anyone chooses to exercise their rights to fight the accusation against them, the judge will order that person locked away from their friends and family for months, until their trial date. The law promises that people are innocent until proved guilty. The time has come for judges in Harris County to finally keep that promise.
Harris County keeps two justice systems: one for the rich and one for the poor. The rich pay to get out. The poor languish in jail, many pleading guilty just to get out. A federal judge in Houston has recognized this problem, and has ordered Harris County to stop this indefensible practice. Rather than admitting they are wrong, Harris County is currently spending millions on lawyers to fight a losing battle in federal court. Harris County, and the Republican judges that run the courts, would rather pay millions of dollars to a private law firm than treat people fairly.
Harris County should not spend millions of taxpayer dollars defending the indefensible. As judge, Franklin Bynum will act to end the bail lawsuit by setting policies that favor pre-trial release, keeping families together and communities stronger.
Right now, the criminal courts do everything they can to discourage people from fighting their case: denying personal bonds, unfairly revoking bonds, and imposing expensive, unnecessary bond conditions. Franklin believes that when someone is arrested, they should have a fair chance to fight their case instead of being punished before they have even been convicted.
The criminal courts set policies designed to maximize guilty pleas, to "move the docket." The courts deny personal bonds, effectively giving the bond companies control over people's freedom. Those who can't pay to get out face months in jail fighting their case. Those who make bond face practices such as being handcuffed to a chair for being 15 minutes late, and offered to plea guilty or go back to jail for being late.
As a judge, Franklin will never coerce pleas. Everyone will be treated with respect and fundamental human dignity. When people want to be heard, they will be heard. No one will be sent to jail for being late. In fact, the whole practice of organizing the courts around daily "roll call" dockets will be ended. People will be free to work with their lawyers and carry on their lives, instead of being threatened and coerced by judges calling roll.
The people of Harris County need care, not cages. Franklin supports efforts to provide improved Medicare for All. We must stop wasting money on a massive punishment bureaucracy, and instead fund more care for people who need it and work together to reduce arrests.
Over half of the cases filed in the county criminal courts are ultimately dismissed. Tens of thousands of people per year are needlessly: arrested, booked, made to pay for their release, pay again for the costs of their bond conditions, all to have the case dismissed in the end. Meanwhile, Harris County hands out big contracts to build big new jails. Courts should not be a part of the out-of-control punishment bureaucracy, they should be leading the way to stop it.
Prosecutors are increasingly using "diversion" programs to resolve cases without needlessly involving jail time or a conviction. The District Attorney's Office should be able to operate diversion programs without interference from judges. Franklin thinks that people should be free to enter into agreements with the prosecutor to have their case dismissed.
The County Criminal Courts have outsourced the entire bail system to a private foundation funded by Enron billionaires Laura and John Arnold. Whether someone is free or not should not be decided by a formula from an unaccountable private foundation. Private vendors should not have a say on whether a person is free or not.
Currently, misdemeanor courts in Harris County require people to appear in court every month or so. The date can't easily be rescheduled. If someone misses roll call for any reason -- even by a few minutes -- the court orders them jailed immediately. Faced with having to post money a second time just for being late, many make the choice to plead guilty to avoid jail. The criminal courts are a horror show of needless tears.
In Franklin’s court, people will only come to court when necessary to resolve the case. Most court settings can be handled by the lawyers. If the person's case is dismissed, as over half of the cases in the County Criminal Courts are, they will never have to come back. No one will be penalized for showing up a few minutes late, and people will be able to schedule appearances that work with their schedules.
Every day, hundreds of people are forced to pile in to a firetrap of a courthouse. After Hurricane Harvey, the County Criminal Courts occupy a building not up to fire code, with ancient elevators and no fire sprinklers. This is an incredibly wasteful, inefficient, and hazardous situation that sets people up for failure. Common decency demands that people not be exposed to hazardous conditions just to satisfy the current Republican judges' need to command and control.
Let’s say the police pull you over and search your car, and you’re pretty sure the search was illegal. When the police commit wrongdoing, people technically have the opportunity to bring that before a judge. But in reality, challenging the conduct of the police before judges is very difficult because judges won't schedule pre-trial hearings.
Franklin’s court will make police accountability a priority. When a person charged in Court 8 wants a hearing or a speedy trial, they should be heard and accommodated.
In a democracy, we control and participate in the world around us. Right now the courts shun our complaints and are operate an unpopular system without ever being held accountable. Harris County will emerge from the bail lawsuit, from the clutches of discrimination, and emerge a better place for us to live.
Franklin joined the Harris County Public Defender's office in 2011 as one of its first lawyers. He specialized in appeals, immigration, trial defense, and specialized in cases involving mental health issues. Most judges today are former prosecutors who act as boosters of police and law enforcement in the courtroom. As a judge, Franklin won't favor one side over another.
Franklin is Board Certified in Criminal Appellate Law. He has been a lawyer for ten years. He is a frequent and sought-after speaker and trainer on the topics of criminal trials, criminal appeals, and immigration law. He is a graduate of the Trial Lawyers College in Dubois, Wyoming.
Franklin grew up in Montrose. He attended HISD schools: Poe, Lanier, and Lamar. He is a past board member of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association and an active member of the Democratic Socialists of America Houston Chapter. He is a bicyclist, a free software enthusiast, and an amateur mechanic.
"What we have today in terms of our jails and prisons cannot exist. Sometimes when I look around them I like to imagine them as a museum. People won’t believe we did this someday."
What I’m trying to do is be a Democrat who actually stands for something, and tells people, 'Here’s how we are going to materially improve conditions in your life'"
A 35-year-old former public defender, Bynum said he’s seen Houston’s criminal courts routinely railroad the poor into convictions that drive them further into poverty. Now, after nearly 10 years subject to the whims of conservative judges, he’s aiming to take the gavel for himself.
"Who are these courts being operated for? Right now, it’s the police, the bondsmen and the prosecutors, and people are just the raw material to be chewed up," said Bynum
Bynum’s campaign did not respond to a request from Fox News for an interview.
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