Texas Attorney General, Governor Call For Release Of Jailed Dallas Salon Owner
Austin, TX – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Governor Greg Abbott have called for the immediate release of a Dallas beauty salon owner who was jailed for seven days after she ignored orders to close her business.
The attorney general pointed out, among other issues he had with the ruling, that Dallas County had dramatically reduced its jail population in order to fight coronavirus and releasing the business owner shouldn’t be an issue, KTVT reported.
“A community that released all those people, some of whom committed serious crimes, can certainly stand to release one more—a mother whose only crime was operating a small business in an effort to feed her children,” Paxton wrote in a letter to the judge who locked business owner Shelly Luther up.
Luther’s business, Salon a la Mode located in Far North Dallas, was forced to close with all other non-essential businesses on March 22 after Dallas County enacted a shutdown order, the Dallas Morning News reported.
Luther kept the salon closed for more than a month, but re-opened her business on April 24 in defiance of the countywide order.
She was given citations for opening her business and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins issued her a cease-and-desist letter, the Dallas Morning News reported.
But the salon owner tore up the judge’s letter during a protest on April 25 and continued operating her business.
Then District Judge Eric Moye issued a temporary restraining order to shut down the salon on April 28, but that didn’t change Luther’s mind either, according to the Dallas Morning News.
She appeared in court before Moye on May 5 and told the judge she had to open her business so that she and her employees could feed their families.
During the hearing, the judge offered Luther an opportunity to stay out of jail, the Dallas Morning News reported.
Moye said Luther could apologize for being selfish by opening her salon during the pandemic, pay a fine, and remain closed until the shutdown order expires on May 8 “in lieu of the incarceration which you’ve demonstrated that you have so clearly earned,” KDFW reported.
“Your actions were selfish, putting your own interests ahead of the community in which you live,” the judge said. “You disrespected the orders of the state, the county, and this city.”
But Luther refused to apologize and pushed back at Moye.
"I have to disagree with you, sir, when you say that I'm selfish because feeding my kids is not selfish,” she told the judge. “I have hairstylists that are going hungry because they would rather feed their kids. So, sir, if you think the law is more important than kids getting fed, then please go ahead with your decision. But I am not going to shut the salon."
Luther said she had applied for a small business loan but didn’t receive the money until May 3 so she had no alternative but to let everybody get back to work, the Dallas Morning News reported.
But the judge disagreed and ruled that Luther and her company, Hot Mess Enterprises, were guilty of civil and criminal contempt of court.
Moye sent Luther to jail for seven days – one day for each day she her salon was open after the court had ordered her to close it, according to KDFW.
She was taken into custody at the end of the hearing and booked into the Dallas County Jail on the contempt charges, the Dallas Morning News reported.
Luther was also fined $7,000 - $500 per day each to the county's criminal and civil courts for every day the salon was open during the shutdown.
The Texas attorney general said he thought that the judge had abused his authority and was pulling a “political stunt” when he locked the salon owner up, KTVT reported.
“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 released on Wednesday. “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.”
He sent a letter to Moye that called Luther’s confinement “significantly overbroad,” KTVT reported.
Paxton also said it was “unjustifiable” to keep Luther in jail when her business could be open and legally operate as of Friday.
The governor also released a statement shortly after the attorney general on April 6 that echoed the same sentiments, KTVT reported.
“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.”