High-ranking Texan officials came down hard on Dallas County Judge Eric Moye this week over a Tuesday decision to jail local small business owner Shelley Luther seven days for reopening amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Calling for Luther’s immediate release, state Attorney General Ken Paxton railed against the sentence as an “outrageous” abuse of power in a Wednesday statement, further suggesting jail time was particularly unreasonable given the recent release of nonviolent offenders in order to prevent coronavirus transmission among incarcerated populations.
“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 his statement, titled, “AG Paxton Calls for Immediate Release of Salon Owner Unjustly Jailed for Working to Feed Her Family.”
“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,” the attorney general added.
“As I have made clear through prior pronouncements, jailing Texans for non-compliance with executive orders should always be the last available option,” Abbott said.
“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.”
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) May 6, 2020
Like many small business owners across the nation, Luther, the owner of Salon À la Mode, had seen her shop temporarily closed for violating an executive order that prohibited continued operation of so-called “nonessential” businesses until later this month, according to CBS DFW.
Unwilling, however, to see her family or those of her employees go without amid the ongoing national emergency, Luther opened up shop early almost two weeks ago, operating with enhanced cleaning procedures and social distancing protocols in order to keep much-needed cash flowing in a responsible manner.
Mounting pressure from local authorities, which included an official cease-and-desist order from Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, would not prevent Luther from keeping the lights on at Salon À la Mode.
In fact, the business owner eventually went viral for ripping up that order, to thunderous applause, at an “Open Texas” rally in front of Frisco City Hall on April 25.
The display would not make Luther any friends in the Texas court system, however, with Moye demanding a public apology for her actions during a hearing Tuesday in exchange for leniency.
“The society cannot function when one’s own belief in a concept of liberty permits you to flaunt your disdain for the rulings of duly elected officials,” Moye said, according to BuzzFeed News, telling Luther that she had the figurative “keys” to the jail and could avoid being jailed.
“You may utilize them now if you would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge that your actions were selfish, putting your interests ahead of those of the community in which you live,” he said. “This court will consider the payment of a fine in lieu of the incarceration, which you have demonstrated you have so clearly earned.”
The judge told Shelley Luther she
could avoid jail time if she apologized, admitted she was wrong, and agreed to close her hair salon until it was allowed to open.
— Andrea Lucia (@CBS11Andrea) May 5, 2020
North Dallas Salon Owner Owner Shelley Luther just sentenced to 7 days in jail by a judge for opening her business according to @CBS11Andrea Lucia The salon owner was served with a temporary restraining order to close last week which she vowed to ignore pic.twitter.com/akiZrUKCZz
— J.D. Miles (@jdmiles11) May 5, 2020
Luther would not accept the deal, refusing to apologize and submitting to incarceration on top of a hefty fine for each day the shop continues to operate. (Her attorney has indicated she has no intention of closing.)
“I have much respect for this court and laws. I have never been in this position before and it’s not someplace that I want to be,” Luther said.
“But I have to disagree with you sir, when you say that I’m 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 getting fed, then please go ahead with you decision but I am not going to shut the salon,” she added.
Political pundits and social media users alike cheered Luther on Wednesday, joining Paxton in calls for the business owner’s release from jail and continuing to support her cause with a GoFundMe.
Despite the outpouring of support, however, no action has yet been taken to pardon Luther.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.