Devlin asked the children first whether they planned to kill anybody.
Steve Halpert, the chief of the juvenile division of the Harris County Public Defender’s office in Houston, said that he had previously asked Devlin three times to release a client accused of aggravated robbery, to no avail. On Wednesday, Devlin granted the request unceremoniously.
“'If I release you, are you going to go out and kill anybody?'” Halpert quoted Devlin as saying to his client and others.
The defendants, of course, said no.
‘Okay, you’re released,’” the judge would then say.
Halpert said it was not behavior he was used to from Devlin and said he believed the judge was trying to make a point.
“I heard him in the court tell other lawyers, ‘Hey, look, this is obviously what the voters wanted.’ I think that was a little bit tongue in cheek,” Halpert said.
Republicans in Harris County had run ads in advance of the election warning that Democrats would be soft on crime, Halpert said.
Devlin and another juvenile court judge in the county, John Phillips, also a Republican, were responsible for more than one-fifth of the minors sent to juvenile prisons in the state in 2017, the Houston Chronicle found during an investigation in October. Counting another juvenile court judge’s rulings with those of Devlin and Phillips, about 96 percent of the children locked up were minorities, the Chronicle reported.
In Texas, minors between the ages of 10 and 17 accused of crimes can be held in detention or released to their families at the discretion of judges as their cases are resolved, according to ABC 13. Many of the juveniles who were released were accused of violent crimes, it reported.
“We oppose the wholesale release of violent offenders at any age,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement. “This could endanger the public.”
Alex Bunin, the county’s chief public defender, told the Houston Chronicle that he was confused by the judge’s actions.
“I’m not sure that I can wrap my arms around what he’s actually doing,” he said. “It’s a huge change, and the only thing that has happened is that he was not elected, so I don’t know what to attribute it to other than that.”
Criminal justice advocates also were critical of Devlin’s decisions.
“Judge Devlin appears to be abdicating the basic responsibility of any sitting juvenile judge,” Elizabeth Henneke of the Lone Star Justice Alliance told the Chronicle, adding that she had never seen anything like it in a juvenile court in Texas.
Devlin declined to comment to the newspaper.