Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) is calling for the immediate release of a Dallas salon owner who was jailed after opening her business despite the order to keep it closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shelley Luther, the owner of Salon a la Mode, was sentenced to seven days in jail Tuesday and was also ordered to pay $500 for each of the seven days the salon was open. Luther reopened her salon on April 24, despite state and county orders.
Dallas County Judge Eric Moye ruled against Luther for both criminal and civil contempt.
Moye told Luther she owes local leaders an apology and called her decision to open early selfish.
"I have to disagree with you, sir, when you say that I am selfish because feeding my kids is not selfish. I have hair stylists that are going hungry because they'd rather feed their kids. So sir, if you think the law is more important than kids being fed, then please go ahead with your decision. But I'm not going to shut the salon," said Luther.
Paxton sent a letter to the judge stating he abused his authority by putting Luther in jail for opening her salon to feed her family.
“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,” Paxton said in a statement. “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.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) released a statement Wednesday, agreeing with Paxton.
"I join the Attorney General in disagreeing with the excessive action by the Dallas Judge, putting Shelley Luther in jail for seven days," Abbott said. As I have made clear through prior pronouncements, jailing Texans for non-compliance with executive orders should always be the last available option. Compliance with executive orders during this pandemic is important to ensure public safety; however, surely there are less restrictive means to achieving that goal than jailing a Texas mother."
Late Wednesday afternoon, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) tweeted that he will pay Luther's fine.
"Seven days in jail, no bail and a $7K fine is outrageous. No surprise Texans are responding. I’m covering the $7K fine she had to pay and I volunteer to be placed under House Arrest so she can go to work and feed her kids," Patrick's tweet said.
We reached out to Luther's attorney, Warren Norred, about Paxton's request.
"My client is in jail because she refused to "bend the knee" to the court," attorney Warren Norred said. "I'm concerned that the judicial system in Dallas is more concerned for one perspective on the rule of law than it is the plight of working people trying to make a living. Though the rule of law is cited by the court, there exists no exception for cities to the general rule that an injunction must be supported by a bond. Without an enforceable injunction, no contempt can be found. Our position is that Ms. Luther has been unlawfully arrested and jailed.
I hope to obtain a writ of habeas corpus very soon. "
The judge's office sent a letter to Paxton Thursday morning, which read, in part:
"For you to "Urge" a Judge towards a particular substantive outcome in this matter is most inappropriate and equally unwelcome. Please do not communicate with the Court in this manner further.
Similarly, your comment in the penultimate sentence of your correspondence is
also inappropriate. The Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court will ultimately make any determination as to any alleged "abuse of discretion" by this or any other Court. That will ONLY occur after all parties are afforded due process and an opportunity to be heard. It is contrary to the concept of an independent Judiciary and offends the tradition of separation of powers for any member of the Executive Branch of Texas government to interject itself into the proceedings of the Judicial Branch.
We trust that this shall not happen further. For the sake of ALL of the citizens of Texas, please let the Judicial process play out without any further interference."