Gov. Greg Abbott modified his executive order outlining the state's coronavirus pandemic response to bar counties from jailing those who violate those orders.
The move comes a day after a Dallas County judge ordered Shelley Luther, the owner of a North Dallas hair salon, jailed for seven days after she refused to close the salon and publicly tore up a cease-and-desist order. Abbott's amended order applies retroactively.
"Throwing Texans in jail who have had their businesses shut down through no fault of their own is nonsensical, and I will not allow it to happen," Abbott said in a statement. "That is why I am modifying my executive orders to ensure confinement is not a punishment for violating an order. This order is retroactive to April 2nd, supersedes local orders and if correctly applied should free Shelley Luther. It may also ensure that other Texans like Ana Isabel Castro-Garcia and Brenda Stephanie Mata who were arrested in Laredo, should not be subject to confinement. As some county judges advocate for releasing hardened criminals from jail to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it is absurd to have these business owners take their place."
Luther reopened her salon, Salon A La Mode, last month despite city, county and state regulations barring her from doing so. When she received a cease-and-desist order from the county ordering her to close her business, Luther tore the order up at an April 25 rally outside her business.
Tuesday, Luther appeared in Dallas County Civil District Court Judge Eric Moye's court. Moye told Luther he would consider giving her a fine but no jail time if she apologized and agreed to keep her salon closed until it was legal to reopen. Luther refused, and Moye ordered her jailed for seven days for contempt of court and fined $7,000.
Luther quickly became a cause célèbre in certain conservative circles. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin paid a visit to the salon Tuesday to show support for Luther. Also on Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton both called for Luther to be released. Paxton accused Dallas County officials of locking her up "for operating her hair salon."
“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. “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.
Under new rules outlined this week by Abbott's coronavirus response task force, Luther will be allowed to reopen her salon Friday.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.