After Harris County judge’s impartiality questioned, case at center of dispute moved to new court

A gavel
A gavel (WDIV)

HOUSTON – A misdemeanor theft case was ordered transferred to a different court following a dispute between prosecutors and Judge Franklin Bynum. Channel 2 Investigates first reported on this dispute April 21.

As KPRC 2 reported, a motion to recuse was filed after the judge held a hearing in the case and expressed his displeasure with how prosecutors were handling the matter.

The hearing took place on March 20 and involved allegations of a stolen laptop from a business. Bynum was direct in his comments to prosecutors.

“You’re failing your statutory obligation as prosecutors and I’m not going to tolerate it,” Bynum said during one portion of the hearing.

Bynum told prosecutors he’s not happy they took a 3-year-old misdemeanor theft to a grand jury and got an indictment. Court records show the suspect in the case was only recently arrested. Bynum told prosecutors he felt such a move was an abuse of “the court’s resources.”

“You’re taking actions to detain people on three-year-old minor theft cases,” Bynum said.

Court records read Bynum did not feel there was adequate probable cause to support a criminal charge and asked prosecutors to dismiss the charges, but they refused. Bynum then sought to have a quick trial and resolve the matter. Prosecutors, however, took the case to a grand jury and secured an indictment. Bynum expressed his concerns in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The problem in this case from the beginning is people are detained in the Harris County Jail and their detention alone is a public health emergency and that fact seems to be completely lost on you and your office,” Bynum said during the hearing.

In their motion to recuse, prosecutors argued Bynum’s motivations are not solely related to public health issues.

“Judge Bynum has publicly proclaimed his belief that most law violators should not be arrested, imprisoned or prosecuted for committing criminal offenses,” prosecutors wrote in their motion.

Prosecutors further wrote Bynum took an oath to uphold the law and “those laws do not permit a sitting judge to force the dismissal of cases or to otherwise manipulate court proceedings to ensure the acquittal or immediate release of a defendant.”

The victim in the case also filed an affidavit with the court.

“Judge Bynum did not express any interest in us as victims or in our desire to seek justice. Before this experience, I assumed judges were usually calm, fair, and impartial. I now see that my assumption was incorrect,” part of the statement read.

Court documents read Judge Susan Brown, presiding judge over the 11th Administrative Judicial Region of Texas, granted prosecutors’ motion to recuse and ordered the case be moved to a different court.

Bynum did not respond to KPRC 2’s request for comment. This is also not the first time prosecutors have sparred with this particular judge.