Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include additional comments.
The Texas Supreme Court ordered the release of a Dallas salon owner Thursday who was jailed after she defied orders and reopened her business in the face of coronavirus restrictions.
The owner, Shelley Luther, was released from the Dallas County Jail hours after Thursday’s ruling. She was met with cheers and chants of “Shelley’s free,” according to video from NBC 5.
“I’m a little overwhelmed,” Luther said. “I just want to thank all of you who I just barely met, and now you’re all my friends. You mean so much to me, this would have been nothing without you.”
Earlier in the day, Gov. Greg Abbott modified his executive orders to remove confinement as a consequence for violating them.
Luther, the owner of Salon à la Mode in Dallas, had gained national attention after being sentenced to a week in jail Tuesday for refusing orders to keep her business closed in the face of coronavirus-related restrictions.
“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 Thursday. “That is why I am modifying my executive orders to ensure confinement is not a punishment for violating an order.”
Abbott, a Republican, said his change supersedes local orders and would be applied retroactively to April 2. Luther was sentenced after being found in contempt of court. She was also fined $7,000 for violating a temporary restraining order against reopening her business.
Ahead of the Texas Supreme Court’s decision, Raul Reyna, a spokesman for the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, told news outlets that Abbott’s modified order alone would not immediately affect Luther — because she was jailed for being in contempt of court for violating state District Judge Eric Moyé’s order, not Abbott’s.
But in an email Thursday afternoon after the Texas Supreme Court’s order, Reyna said the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office had received the court order, and that Luther was in the process of being released. Reyna later said Luther was released from the Dallas County Jail at approximately 1:50 p.m.
Abbott had visited the White House Thursday afternoon, and discussed his modified order and Luther’s release with President Donald Trump.
“She’s free today,” Abbott said of Luther.
“Good,” Trump said, later adding, “I was watching the salon owner. She looked so great, so professional, so good when she was talking about her children. She has to feed her children.”
Luther’s lawyers — who include state Rep. Briscoe Cain, a Republican from Deer Park, and Warren Norred, an Arlington attorney who serves on the State Republican Executive Committee — sought her immediate release Wednesday.
Abbott said his change “may also ensure” that other Texans should not be subject to confinement. In his statement, he specifically named Ana Isabel Castro-Garcia and Brenda Stephanie Mata, two women who were arrested in Laredo last month for offering nail and eyelash services, allegedly in violation of the local emergency management plan, according to the Laredo Morning Times. The two were released on bond that same day, the paper reported.
Similar case in Laredo gets less national attention
As Luther’s case rocketed into the national spotlight and Texas’ top leaders advocated for her release, some had pointed to the arrests of Castro-Garcia and Mata as evidence of racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
“We were following the rule at the time,” Joe Baeza, a spokesman for the Laredo Police Department, said of Castro-Garcia and Mata’s detainment after their arrests. “The city basically took very swift action to ensure that the community was being safeguarded for the main concern over its health.”
Previously, consequences for violating Abbott’s executive orders related to the coronavirus outbreak included fines up to $1,000, jail time up to 180 days, or both. Abbott’s elimination of jail time as a penalty came just one day after state leaders had come out in defense of Luther.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, volunteered Wednesday to serve Luther’s sentence under house arrest, and a spokeswoman for Patrick wrote in an email Thursday that he had donated $7,000 — the amount of Luther’s fine — to her GoFundMe page.
Attorney General Ken Paxton, who had called for Luther’s immediate release, applauded both Abbott and the Texas Supreme Court’s decisions Thursday.
“No Texan should face imprisonment for peacefully resisting an order that temporarily closed a lawful business and drastically limited their ability to provide for their family through no fault of their own,” Paxton said in a statement Thursday.
Like most “nonessential” businesses, Luther was required to shut down her salon under Dallas County’s stay-at-home order that went into effect late March. Luther had reopened her salon April 24, defying the county’s order and going as far as tearing up a cease-and-desist letter from Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Under Abbott’s phased reopening of Texas businesses amid the outbreak, the first set of businesses, including restaurants and malls, were allowed to open their doors on May 1. When Abbott announced his executive order last week, he made clear that salons were not allowed to reopen at the time.
Salons received the green-light this week, when Abbott announced Tuesday that barbershops and hair, nail and tanning salons would be allowed to reopen in a limited capacity starting Friday.
In a Wednesday letter to Moyé, Paxton had called the judge’s ruling “significantly overbroad,” pointing to the fact that Luther would be allowed to reopen her salon this week under Abbott’s announcement.
In a letter in response, Moyé and 11 other state district judges in Dallas County wrote that Paxton urging Luther’s release was “most inappropriate and equally unwelcome.”
“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,” the letter read.
Paxton responded to the judges’ in a letter of his own Thursday, and wrote,“Do not forget: Although judges are independent of the Executive Branch, they are not independent of the people.”
“Judges cannot be immune from criticism. I trust you will not condemn other Texans who properly petition the courts for a redress of grievances,” Paxton wrote.
This story was originally published May 07, 2020 10:00 AM.