Harris County juvenile judge misses work day after releasing multiple defendants

By AP Author, Keith Garvin - Anchor/Reporter

HOUSTON - A day after losing his re-election bid, a Texas judge released nearly all of the juvenile defendants who appeared before him after asking them whether they intended to kill anyone.

Harris County prosecutors expressed concerns after Judge Glenn Devlin made the decision in a Houston courtroom Wednesday morning. The juveniles face charges ranging from misdemeanors to violent crimes.

The longtime Republican jurist rescheduled all of the cases for the first week in January. That's when the Democrat who beat him during Tuesday's election will take the bench. It's unclear how many juveniles were released.

"We oppose the wholesale release of violent offenders at any age; this could endanger the public," Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said.

Judge Devlin was not at work on Thursday. The court coordinator couldn’t say if or when he would return.

An associate judge was hearing the cases on the docket.

Juvenile Division Chief offers thoughts on judge's decisions

Steve Halpert is the Juvenile Division Chief for Harris County's Public Defender's Office.

In his 18 years of practicing law he says he's never seen anything like what occurred inside the Juvenile Justice Center Wednesday.

On the day after he was defeated in the election -- Devlin apparently allowed several kids charged with felonies to be released to wait for their next court date if they answered one simple question.

"The juveniles were asked whether they were going to, if released, whether they would kill somebody," Halpert said. "It was a little bit shocking because that's not a question Judge Devlin would ever ask. Or any judge."

Halpert, a Democrat, said Devlin, a Republican, is known to be diligent and thorough -- usually running a tight docket. But in his detention hearings he usually asks diligent, thorough questions to defense attorneys before deciding to release any defendant. Halpert said he heard the judge say the easier-than-normal releases today were "what the voters wanted."

"I think there was an extrapolation on his part that by releasing them he was acquiescing to what the voters obviously wanted," Halpert said. "Meaning that Democratic judges are generally going to be soft on crime. That's the belief. That's not in reality true."

Devlin was one of 59 Republican judges caught up in a Democratic sweep in Harris County on Election Day. With more than eight weeks before his term is up on the bench, will he continue to allow himself to be caught up in the apparent emotions from his defeat?

"I think he may have to be consistent and continue this practice," Halpert said. "If not, then that might send a message that maybe yesterday (Wednesday) was something out of the ordinary."

2018 KPRC / The Associated Press