In 2021, the Texas governor initiated Operation Lone Star in an attempt to arrest people who had illegally entered into Texas in the general area of Val Verde and Kinney counties. This is a multi-billion dollar operation which involved deploying approximately one thousand DPS troopers and Texas National Guardsmen in support with about 70% deployed to Val Verde and Kinney counties.1 The governor authorized these individuals to arrest migrants for trespassing and other similar charges. Id. There have been over 2500 arrests as a result of this operation with approximately 8% of these cases as felonies and 2.5% accused of those felonies being alleged migrants. Approximately $29 million was allocated by the Texas legislature to pay for attorneys, investigators, and other individuals to represent these individuals.
The Neighborhood Defender Service (NDS) of Harlem opened this month an office in San Antonio, Texas to provide legal services to migrants who have been arrested as a result of Operation Lone Star.2 These NDS services are funded by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TIDC). Texas RioGrande Legal Aid has also been providing legal services to these accused persons and has also been provided funding by TIDC for these services. The remainder of these accused persons are represented by panel attorneys.
To handle this large amount of cases, the Presiding Judge of the Sixth Administrative Judicial Region appointed three judges to ensure timely bail decisions and rule on other issues arising in these cases. The defense attorneys who are attempting to provide the best representation possible for these clients have obtained several dismissals for various reasons or bail release for delay pursuant to Article 17.151 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. These appointed judges were the judges ruling on these cases. The defense attorneys did excellent work in representing these clients before these judges and obtaining appropriate relief.
Last month, however, on December 8, 2021, the Kinney County Judge fired these three judges appointed by the Presiding Judge of the Sixth Administrative Judicial Region. See Petition for Mandamus in In re De La Cruz – De La Cruz, No. 04-21-00577-CR, San Antonio Fourth Court of Appeals. In this mandamus, it is alleged by our own Keith Hampton, Angelica Cogliano, and Addy Miro, that the Kinney County Judge ordered the termination of these three judges. Id. It is also alleged that the Kinney County Judge ordered that his court coordinator had sole authority to set court dates and docket cases for Kinney County. Id. The relator in this mandamus action, as of December 22, 2021, had spent 56 days in jail for Criminal Trespass, a Class B misdemeanor. Id. The issue in this mandamus is whether or not a county judge may sua sponte fire judges appointed by a presiding district judge of an administrative judicial region and prevent those judges from controlling their dockets. Id. As a result of the firing of these three judges, the relator remained incarcerated in the TDCJ Segovia Unit for a misdemeanor offense for which bond is authorized yet there is no setting on this case and his release on bond has been unreasonably delayed. Id. One has to wonder about the reason for the firing of these three judges. Hopefully, the reason for the firing of these three judges will be revealed during the course of this mandamus. Kudos to these TCDLA attorneys for their diligent representation of their client.
As Operation Lone Star continues to play out in Val Verde and Kinney Counties, we are confident that defense counsel will continue with such diligent representation of the more than 2500 people charged with criminal trespass and other such offenses and ensure that bail considerations are met along with other proper resolution of these cases.