My name is Chuck Silverman and I am the Judge in the 183rd Criminal District Court.
Prior to my election, I practiced law for over three decades in state and federal trial and appellate courts. I also served as General Counsel for a multinational corporation.
I grew up in Texas and attended Tulane University where I received my undergraduate, M.B.A. and law degrees. I have lived in Houston over three decades. In my spare time I enjoy cycling and shooting skeet and sporting clays.
Gabrielle Banks, Staff writerJune 24, 2020Updated: June 25, 2020 6:58 a.m.
A Harris County felony judge who has detained hundreds of pretrial defendants on high bond filed a motion to join the historic lawsuit challenging cash bail.
Saying the bail system “perpetuates inequalities” and can have “devastating” consequences on lives and livelihoods, State District Chuck Silverman of the 183rd Criminal Court filed paperwork Wednesday to intervene in the 2019 federal civil rights lawsuit brought on behalf of poor defendants stuck at the jail. In addition, fellow jurist Brian Warren, of the 209th Criminal Court, said he planned to file his own motion to join the case this week, with hopes of reforming the way judges handle with pretrial release.
Silverman said he thinks the majority of his colleagues on the felony bench want to revise how PR bonds work and “want to make the cash bail system obsolete or to make it work better.”
Like his colleagues on the bench, Silverman, a Democrat elected in 2018, is not a party in the lawsuit. He sought to intervene to ensure equal protection and due process rights are fairly administered, while protecting public safety.
Silverman said in an interview that negotiations on the bail lawsuit had been moving slowly and he learned in his civil practice prior to becoming a judge that the best way to push it forward and accomplish true bail reform was to intervene.
“We need systemic change in the cash bail system because it disproportionately affects minorities and the poor,” he said. “The time to do something proactive was now.”
The unopposed motion argues that cash bail discriminates against people who can’t access funds, often forcing them to settle for guilty pleas rather than await trial in lockup.
Neal Manne, one of the lawyers for the indigent plaintiffs, applauded Silverman’s “courageous” move and encouraged other judges to follow his lead.
“Any state judge looking in good faith at the cash bail situation in the felony courts in Harris County can see that the system is broken and requires reform,” Manne said. “I am delighted that Judge Silverman has acknowledged that the current situation violates the rights of poor people.”
In recent months, Manne, who works for Susman Godfrey LLP, and co-counsel from Civil Rights Corps in Washington, D.C., have pressed the court to release thousands of people from pretrial detention at the jail who are being held because they can’t scrape together funds for bail. They argued that during the pandemic, bail was a life or death question.
Silverman said the threat of COVID-19 and the recent demonstrations over racial injustice were the backdrop as he finalized his court documents.
The county jail has been hard hit by the coronavirus, with 1,027 inmates and 336 jail staff testing positive. A series of conflicting orders from officials sought to mitigate a public health crisis. Since then, the jail population has crept back up.
Silverman said he thinks the country is at a turning point and he is pushing for “true felony bail reform” including the adoption of a scientifically-based risk assessment tool and a more robust pretrial services division.
He said, “I’m very optimistic this is a watershed event that will result in the majority of other judges joining… to reform the system.”
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