Houston Man Sues Over Rule Classifying Defendants' Info

By Aaron West | August 31, 2023, 10:18 PM EDT ·

A Houston man who distributes criminal defendants' contact information to private defense attorneys on Thursday sued the Harris County District Clerk and the administrative arm of the county's criminal courts over a new rule that makes certain defendant information private, arguing it threatens his direct mail business and violates his constitutional rights.

Scott Martin's Harris County-based business distributes defendants' contact information that he collects via various types of bonds to defense attorneys, according to his complaint. But because of an order the Harris County Criminal Courts at Law issued in June and the way that Harris County District Clerk Marilyn Burgess is enforcing that order, the contact information Martin said he has distributed "for decades" is now considered confidential, and it's threatening his business.

Martin said the Texas county's criminal courts and Burgess are violating his rights by going beyond what the actual order requires. His complaint also includes a motion for a temporary restraining order that would stop the new order from going into effect while his case is heard,

"As a result of the administrative bond order and the district clerk's over-enforcement of the Bond Order, Mr. Martin's business and that of his clients has been greatly impacted," Martin stated in his complaint, going on to highlight how a similar order the county issued in 1988 was struck down by the court back then.

"Moreover, the restriction of access to that information is a violation of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights," Martin added.

The Harris County Criminal Courts at Law is an administrative office that oversees state district misdemeanor courts in the county. Martin is also suing multiple current and former Harris County Criminal Courts at Law administrative judges, according to the complaint.

Martin said the county's order, which was issued by a former county judge, instructs the district clerk to keep all information on general order bonds and personal bonds confidential. But the district clerk "goes beyond the four corners" of the bond order by also making many other kinds of bonds confidential as well.

According to Martin's complaint, the alleged civil rights violations are based on two reasons. First, there's the fact that attorney advertising via direct mail has been considered a protected form of commercial speech under the First Amendment in multiple jurisdictions, he wrote. Secondly, due to the way the order was issued in June, which didn't involve any notification or hearing, his right to due process was allegedly violated as well.

"The bond order is an unconstitutional ban and unconstitutional prior restraint on plaintiff's and his clients' protected commercial speech," he said. "The bond order is also a restraint on plaintiff's and his clients' liberty and property interests without any form of process, let alone appropriate due process."

Beyond the motion for a temporary restraining order that would make public again all the information that used to be public before the order was issued, Martin is also requesting a jury trial that would award damages for the alleged civil rights violations as well as award declaratory and injunctive relief.

Scott Martin is represented by Randall L. Kallinen and Alexander C. Johnson of Kallinen Law PLLC.

Counsel information for the defendants wasn't immediately available.

The case is Scott Martin v. Harris County District Clerk Marilyn Burgess et al., case number 4:23cv3228, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

--Editing by Lakshna Mehta.

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