Texas AG wants the "immediate release" of jailed salon owner

Yesterday we looked at the case of North Dallas hair salon owner Shelley Luther, who was sent to jail for keeping her business open in defiance of a court order to remain shut down. While the judge’s decision was technically legal under the current state and local executive shutdown orders in Texas, the optics of it were terrible and the court certainly could have shown a bit more compassion given Luther’s circumstances. Now the state’s Attorney General, Ken Paxton, has weighed in on the situation, saying that he wants to see Luther released from jail “immediately.” (CBS Dallas-Fort Worth)

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has called for the “immediate release” of a Dallas salon owner who was arrested and sent to jail for opening her business in defiance of Gov. Greg Abbott’s stay-at-home orders.

Shelley Luther, owner of Salon A La Mode, was sentenced to seven days in jail Tuesday after Dallas judge Eric Moye said she violated those orders as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Paxton said he believes the judge is abusing his authority and that her arrest seems like a “political stunt.”

Here’s the full text of Paxton’s statement.

“I find it outrageous and out of touch that during this national pandemic, a judge, in a county that actually released hardened criminals for fear of contracting COVID-19, would jail a mother for operating her hair salon in an attempt to put food on her family’s table. The trial judge did not need to lock up Shelley Luther. His order is a shameful abuse of judicial discretion, which seems like another political stunt in Dallas. He should release Ms. Luther immediately.”

Normally, this would be an uncomfortable choice for the AG to make because he’s basically arguing in favor of undermining an executive order issued by his boss, Governor Greg Abbott. But it appears that the two men coordinated their response because the Governor almost immediately released his own statement concurring with Paxton. He described the judge’s actions as “excessive” and stated that jailing Texans for violating executive orders should only be “the last available option.”

Sadly, at least in this particular case, the Governor is almost making the judge’s case for him. As much as I’ve been sympathetic to Ms. Luther’s cause and believe that the judge was being unreasonable, even I have to admit that the court had indeed reached the “last available option.” Luther had been given a court order to close back down which she proceeded to tear up during a protest and ignore. Unless the court wanted to turn Abbott’s executive order into a paper tiger, what options were left aside from sending state troopers to stand in front of the salon’s doorway blocking access to customers? And I’m fairly sure the police have better things to occupy their time these days.

There’s still one good option left for the judge here, at least in my opinion. He issued his order to enforce the executive order and he’s sent Luther to jail to make his point. Tomorrow is the day when hair salons are allowed to reopen if they institute the same health precautions that the salon owner had already put in place. He could turn around this evening and order Luther’s early release in time to legally open for business tomorrow morning, including a stern warning about not flaunting the law in the future. That really seems like the best available course of action, not to mention the more compassionate one.