The Texas Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the release of jailed salon owner Shelley Luther, just hours after Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order eliminating punishment for violating stay-at-home orders.
“Throwing Texans in jail whose biz’s shut down through no fault of their own is wrong,” Mr. Abbott tweeted. “I am eliminating jail for violating an order, retroactive to April 2, superseding local orders.”
He added, “Criminals shouldn’t be released to prevent COVID-19 just to put business owners in their place.”
Ms. Luther was sent to jail after she defied an order and opened her salon business amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Texas Supreme Court correctly addressed Ms. Luther’s excessive punishment and unnecessary jailing. 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,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Thursday in a statement. “Texans must all work together to overcome this crisis, and ensuring freedom from excessive punishment is critical.”
Mr. Abbott said his order should also clear things for Ana Isabel Castro-Garcia and Brenda Stephanie Mata, two women who were arrested in Laredo after advertising nail or beauty services online during the pandemic.
Local police sent undercover officers to answer the online ads, then arrested the women once they admitted they were performing services despite the shutdown orders.
Some Texans on Wednesday had questioned top state officials’ focus on Ms. Luther but not on the two Laredo women.
Mr. Abbott said it was “absurd” to have counties sticking the women in jail at a time when counties are trying to empty their jails to prevent COVID-19 infections.
Mr. Paxton said people aren’t supposed to be sitting in jail for trying to keep their businesses alive in difficult times.
“There’s clearly a balance here, and I think this judge is missing it,” Mr. Paxton said. “I’m not saying that she shouldn’t be held accountable for her actions — what I am saying is we’ve overreacted.”
Mr. Paxton and Mr. Abbott have decried the decision, and Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he would cover an associated fine.
Judge Eric V. Moye in Dallas County had ordered that Ms. Luther be sent to jail for seven days after she had defied a previous order to shut her business down.
The case has caused friction in the Lone Star State between those who see Ms. Luther as a victim and those who think Judge Moye drew unfair criticism because he is an African American liberal jurist.
• Stephen Dinan and James Varney contributed to this story.