Yesterday, a week and a half removed from reopening her salon in Dallas, Shelley Luther was sentenced to a week in jail and fined $7,000 for contempt of court.
The court issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on April 28, stating Luther must cease operations at her business “Salon a La Mode.” The TRO’s expiration date was set for May 12.
The same day she reopened, Luther received a cease and desist letter from Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, which she ripped up at a rally the next day. The letter, delivered to Luther around 3 p.m. stated she must close down by 1 p.m., otherwise charges would be filed against her.
Luther’s salon remained open each day thereafter in violation of the TRO. Luther repeatedly said she would not close and that, as she told The Texan, “I’m of the mind that we either stand up to this now, or the politicians continue to think that they can continue to issue these unconstitutional ordinances.”
While operating, Luther’s stylists wear masks and sanitize regularly. She had also only allowed patrons to enter the salon when it was their turn to be serviced. The protocol broken by the business was the six-feet apart rule as stylists must be within that distance to cut hair.
Luther also limited her services to hair cuts — along with one nail stylist — to increase efficiency and limit patrons’ time in the salon.
On Tuesday, Luther appeared before the court, which conducted the proceedings remotely over Zoom.
Dallas District Judge Eric Moyé stated, “The opening of the salon in any way, shape, form, or fashion violates [the governor’s] executive order, it violates this court’s TRO, and it violates the city and county of Dallas’ orders.”
Moyé pointed to the section of the governor’s order which “requires all Texans to minimize in-person contact with anyone not in their household except where necessary to obtain essential services or reopened services.”
Luther has maintained that “all businesses are essential.” Since Luther first closed her business on March 22, she has referenced that the pet grooming business next door has remained open and is deemed an “essential service.”
Governor Abbott’s announcement on Tuesday — which occurred during the trial’s duration and which the court recessed briefly to listen to — set a date for reopening salons of May 8.
After the recess, Moyé “acknowledged” a denial of a writ of mandamus with the Texas Supreme Court filed by, among other petitioners, Salon a La Mode. The Supreme Court stated that the question should first be litigated in lower courts.
Moyé highlighted a section of the opinion, which read, “Those who object to these restrictions should remember they were imposed by duly elected officials, vested by statute with broad emergency powers, who must make difficult decisions under difficult circumstances.”
What he skipped over in reading through that opinion was the next stanza, which reads, “At the same time, all of us—the judiciary, the other branches of government, and our fellow citizens—must insist that every action our governments take complies with the Constitution, especially now. If we tolerate unconstitutional government orders during an emergency, whether out of expediency or fear, we abandon the Constitution at the moment we need it most.”
This shows the Supreme Court, while denying the writ of mandamus, acknowledges that potential discrepancies between the orders and rights guaranteed within the Constitution must be examined.
In his decision, Moyé wrote, “The refusal of the Defendants to cease operation of the Salon, despite the clear and unambiguous language of the Order which instructed them to so do constitutes Criminal Contempt of this Court.”
He called Luther’s actions a “flagrant and intentional” defiance of the court’s order.
The judge also found she was guilty of civil contempt, adding, “The Defendants, although having been given an opportunity to do so, have expressed no contrition, remorse or regret for their contemptuous action. Indeed, they have refused to accept the opportunity to represent to the Court that they would cease their willful violation of the Court’s Order.”
Moyé then sentenced Luther to seven days in jail and issued a $7,000 fine — $500 per day she had remained open in defiance of the TRO, for each the criminal and civil conviction.
His decision also levies a $500 fine for each day the salon remains open thereafter until May 7.
The decision closed, saying, “Should the Defendants aver under Oath that they shall immediately cease and desist the continued operation of the Salon, publicly express contrition, publicly express contrition for the violation of the Order of this Court and the Orders and mandates of the State of Texas, of Dallas County and of the City of Dallas, and take all steps necessary to comply with the Temporary Restraining Order of this Court, they may seek release.”
In an offer to Luther to apologize and avoid reprimand by the court, Moyé stated:
“If you would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge that your actions were selfish; putting your own interest ahead of those in the community in which you live; that you have disrespected the orders of the state, this county, and this city; that you now see the error of your ways and understand that the society cannot function where one’s own belief in a concept of liberty permits you to flaunt your disdain for the rulings of duly-elected officials; that you owe an apology to the elected officials whom you disrespected…and that you represent to this court that you will today cease operations of your salon and not reopen until after further orders of the government permit you to do so, this court will consider the payment of a fine in lieu of the incarceration that you have demonstrated that you have so clearly earned.”
Luther declined to apologize and responded, saying, “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 your decision, but I am not going to shut the salon.”
Luther’s lawyer, Warren Norred, appeared on Glenn Beck’s radio program on Tuesday and stated they will be filing a writ of habeas corpus — a method of recourse for alleged wrongful imprisonment.
Today, Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to Moyé requesting that he release Luther from prison.
Governor Greg Abbott also criticized the move, saying, “I join the Attorney General in disagreeing with the excessive action by the Dallas Judge, putting Shelley Luther in jail for seven days. 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.”
The Texan can confirm the salon is open for business today.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.