NAACP joins groups calling for Harris County judge to resign after controversial comments
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund has joined a growing list of national, state and local civil rights organizations demanding the resignation of Harris County’s longest-serving felony judge over his comments about black defendants,
Black Lives Matter Houston, Texas Organizing Project and the ACLU of Texas have also called for Harris County District Judge Michael McSpadden to step down.
McSpadden, one of 31 judges who systematically denied initial requests for cash-free bonds to defendants during a 12-year period, told the Houston Chronicle last week that few defendants are good candidates for personal bonds.
“The young black men - and it’s primarily young black men rather than young black women - charged with felony offenses, they’re not getting good advice from their parents,” McSpadden told the Chronicle. “Who do they get advice from? Rag-tag organizations like Black Lives Matter, which tell you, ‘Resist police,’ which is the worst thing in the world you could tell a young black man ... They teach contempt for the police, for the whole justice system.”
Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director of the NAACP group, she said in a statement Thursday that McSpadden’s remarks show clear racial bias against the young black men he regularly encounters in his courtroom.
“Judge McSpadden believes black men cannot be trusted with bail because they’re taught to have contempt for the justice system,” Ifill said. “It is apparent that he cannot do his job fairly and impartially as required by the U.S. Constitution and by the laws of the state of Texas.”
“A judge demonstrating such bigotry and bias cannot serve in our criminal justice system. No defendant can have confidence in Judge McSpadden’s fitness for the bench, and we call on him to resign immediately to help restore Texans’ faith in the integrity of the judicial system,” she said.
If McSpadden declines to retire or resign, the NAACP is one of several groups asking that he step aside so the State Commission on Judicial Conduct can initiate a formal investigation.
Ifill’s group echoed requests by the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Organizing Project for the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to investigate McSpadden’s judicial history, asking the watchdog organization in Austin to force him to take a leave of absence while it reviews such claims.
McSpadden declined a reporter’s request for comment, but he submitted a letter to the Chronicle explaining his position that attitudes of all defendants toward the justice system have shifted during his 36 years on the bench, with most no longer respecting “the rule of law.”
He wrote, “In the case of young black defendants who are disproportionally represented in our system, they are not receiving good advice from their parents as did my generation, to cooperate with law enforcement at all times, and respect the laws. They are advised by ragtag groups like Black Lives Matter to have utter contempt for our judicial system.”
Ashton P. Woods, lead organizer for Black Lives Matter Houston, said, McSpadden is helping to create a debtors’ prison in Harris County by denying bonds to poor defendants.
“Based on what he said and his track record alone, his tenure as judge is untenable,” Woods said. “He should be investigated, disbarred and resign and he should not be allowed to practice law after he resigns.”
At a press event Wednesday, Tarsha Jackson, criminal justice director of the Texas Organizing Project, made a similar appeal for the judge to resign.
“There’s no tolerance for racism on the bench,” Jackson said on Thursday. “There’s no place for judges that are responsible for thousands of lives... to have that type of mentality on the bench.”
Gabrielle Banks covers federal court for the Houston Chronicle. Follow her on Twitter and send her tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.