Elected in 2018, Criminal Court at Law No. 8 Judge Franklin Bynum is facing charges of Bias Against the State, Failure to Comply with the Law, and Reasonable Doubt Regarding Judicial Impartiality. A notice of formal proceedings filed by the SCJC lists 22 allegations regarding his policies and behaviors both in and outside of his courtroom.
In one incident, Bynum ordered the Harris County Sheriff’s Office not to collect DNA samples from defendants convicted of certain burglary charges although state law clearly requires law enforcement to collect such specimens in order to match with samples collected from other unsolved crime scenes.
Complaints from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office (HCDAO) also allege that Bynum made findings of “no probable cause” in at least four cases, including one in which the defendant had already entered into a plea agreement. HCDAO also says Bynum set aside charges in 20 cases because prosecutors had not included a document not required by Texas law.
The HCDAO says Bynum’s frequent findings of no probable cause in multiple cases alleging family violence or violation of protective orders demonstrate bias or prejudice against victims of domestic assaults, and in one virtual hearing Bynum suggested the HCDAO merely used such victims as “pawns.”
Bynum is also accused of engaging in a “series of bad faith decisions that ultimately led to his recusal” in the 2020 case of Christopher Bales. Arrested in Harris County on charges of burglary, prosecutors from the State of Michigan sought to extradite Bales as a fugitive wanted for domestic abuse, but Bynam attempted to release Bales before the extradition could be processed.
In another case, Bynum circumvented an HCDAO request for a jury trial of Austin Kane Reyes-Cisneros, and instead held a bench trial and acquitted the defendant. The 14th Court of Appeals then ordered Bynum to vacate the acquittal, but Bynum refused to do so until the Court of Appeals personally served him with a writ.
Other charges include Bynam’s policies that prevented prosecutors from communicating with him via email but allowing defense attorneys to do so, not allowing HCDAO staff to communicate with other court participants during virtual proceedings or view court proceedings remotely, and adopting a blanket policy of not accepting agreed plea deals from the state, and refusing to allow HCDAO.
A self-proclaimed socialist, Bynum said in a 2019 interview with The Nation magazine that he wanted to contribute to the “demolition” of the criminal justice system and has posted photos of himself wearing a “defund the police” t-shirt on his social media accounts.
In 2020, Bynam was one of several Harris County judges who unsuccessfully sued to block Gov. Abbott’s executive orders blocking County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s plan to release thousands of suspects from the jail due to COVID-19 concerns.
Unpopular even within his own party, Bynum lost his primary election in 2022 to HCDAO prosecutor Erika Ramirez, but he has vowed to remain on the bench until his term expires at the end of this year.
Bynum now has 15 days to respond in writing to the charges against him. According to the Texas Constitution, once the SCJC recommends removal, a tribunal of seven justices from the state’s Courts of Appeals will review the record and may consider additional evidence. They must rule within 90 days.
Earlier this year the SCJC publicly admonished and disciplined Harris County Judge Darrell Jordan for repeatedly indulging in “intemperate conduct” and exhibiting bias against prosecutors and the HCDAO.
In 2017, the Supreme Court of Texas suspended Harris County Justice of the Peace Hilary Green after the SCJC launched formal proceedings due to allegations of drug abuse with ecstasy and cocaine, and soliciting sex from a bailiff. Green resigned the following year.
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Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.