Judge withdraws controversial order favoring law enforcement
Facebook post barred plea deals in alleged threats
By Harvey Rice
July 30, 2016
GALVESTON - A Galveston County district judge has rescinded a controversial order viewed as favoring law enforcement, but defense attorneys said Saturday they were still considering a formal complaint and other actions.
Judge Kerry Neves on Friday withdrew an order issued July 18 and posted on his Facebook page barring anyone accused of threatening or endangering a law enforcement officer from entering a plea agreement unless he found a compelling reason.
"I may only be one person, one judge, but I will do what I can to stop the disrespect and aggressive behavior against our police officers," Neves wrote in a Facebook post. "If you are an officer, spouse of an officer or know an officer, make sure they know of this change in my court."
Before it was withdrawn the order prompted a firestorm of complaints from attorneys who saw it as prejudging cases and siding with law enforcement. The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association formed a special task force to decide whether to file a formal complaint with the Judicial Conduct Commission.
Neves' new order also explained why he issued the original order and why he decided to withdraw it.
"My intent was purely to protect the people who protect us," the order said. "It was not a political statement."
Neves could not be reached for comment, but said in the order that he spoke with attorneys "who feel I went too far in the policy adopted. I have also noted the comments of attorneys whom I like and respect in the various media reports who were shocked at my action."
Neves denied ever showing favoritism to law enforcement. "I have concluded the policy does more harm to the administration of justice than good and possibly creates appearances of impartiality which I never intended," he said in the order.
Neves said the withdrawn order was a reaction to the ambush deaths of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge last month. "The primary factor leading me to do so was hearing spouses of officers say the money they should be using on their children was being spent on upgrading body armor, or officers talking about enhancing their personal weapons," Neves said in his order.
Withdrawing the order may not satisfy Neves' critics. Houston attorney David Ryan, who formed the task force for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association to examine Neves' original order, said of the withdrawal, "It's just another factor we have to consider."
Tyler Flood, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, said feelings were mixed about going forward with a formal complaint to the Judicial Conduct Commission. "Some lawyers are wanting to stay the course because the action he took is potentially grievable," Flood said. "We want to deter further actions."
Ryan said the task force also was examining Facebook posts by the judge that could show a bias toward police made before he posted the plea-agreement order on his Facebook page. A June 8 post by Neves in reaction to a New Orleans police officer killed by a drunk driver read in part that he "will continue to do what I can to get these people off the streets - even if someone thinks I should not talk about this!"
Ryan said Neves has indicated a bias in favor of law enforcement, and it might be better if he stops hearing cases involving threats to officers.
Galveston attorney Susan Criss, a former judge, said she is considering whether to withdraw a motion asking Neves to recuse himself from a case she is handling because of the now withdrawn plea-agreement order.
"I think it's very admirable that he did admit it was a mistake and withdraw the order," Criss said. "Judges are human, and they make mistakes. However, I do have trouble with things he said on Facebook that preceded the officers in Dallas being killed."
She quoted a Facebook post by Neves saying, " 'We want every law enforcement officer to know that they have the full support of this court.' What does this mean?" Criss said.