Harris County, Texas, Magistrate Joe Licata recently referred to traffic tickets and fines as his "job security" (video below).
Robin Clearey appeared in Licata's courtroom where he read off the charges against her: no taillights on her car, expired vehicle registration and no driver's license, notes the Houston Press.
Clearey pleaded guilty to the class "C" misdemeanors and was fined $50 for each by Licata, who reminded her that she was still facing a class "B" misdemeanor charge of driving with an invalid license, which carried a $3,500 bond.
Licata told Clearey that she would also be hit with a surcharge on the no driver's license charge.
Clearey didn't understand the difference between the misdemeanors, and Licata told her that she still had to deal with a suspension that she was going to get, or she was going to be arrested every time an officer pulled her over. The defeated woman told Licata how that was nothing to her because she was in and out of jail or court on these charges.
"It’s nothing to me either," Licata fired back. "It's job security."
"Job security? Wow," Clearey replied.
While this was a stark admission from a judge, a new study by the Texas Organizing Project found that Harris County magistrates are often rough with low-income people who are charged with non-violent crimes.
Magistrate Eric Hagstette reportedly raised one woman's bail because she replied, "Yeah," instead of, "Yes."
The Civil Rights Corps filed a federal lawsuit against Licata, Hagstette, and three other magistrates for allegedly not taking into account people's low incomes and inability to pay, which judges are supposed to do per the U.S. Constitution.
The Houston Press notes that Willie Love Watson appeared before Hagstette for allegedly driving with an invalid license.
Watson asked Hagstette: "If I could get a PR bond, if it pleases the court, it would really make me happy and my family happy. We’re trying my hardest to get [our] family back together."
"It would make me happy if you could get out of jail on your own," Hagstette fired back, and declined the request.
The Harris County Attorney's Office, which is representing Hagstette and other four magistrates on the taxpayers' dime against the Civil Rights Corps lawsuit, refused to comment because of the pending suit.
Tarsha Jackson, Harris County director of the Texas Organizing Project, described the magistrates' behavior toward some low-income defendants as "inhumane," and said he treated them like a "herd of cattle."
"There has to be a total culture shift," Jackson told the Houston Press. "Having like-minded elected officials that see the need to change the culture of our criminal justice system, we would be successful in bail reform. But with these individuals? I don’t think it’s possible at all."
According to a recent report by the ACLU of Texas, thousands of poor people in Texas are locked up in jails because they cannot pay traffic tickets and the ensuing fines.
"In addition to getting the fines and fees in court, you also get surcharges through DPS on top of those tickets," ACLU of Texas attorney Trisha Trigilio told the Houston Press. "And then the tickets themselves can keep you from getting a valid license or getting your car registered — and you get even more tickets for that. It's like having a target on your car at that point."