AUSTIN, Texas – The state Supreme Court ordered Dallas County officials Thursday to free salon owner Shelley Luther from jail while its nine judges, all Republicans, weigh an appeal challenging her incarceration as improper.
Luther was released from the Dallas County Jail around 1:50 p.m., according to a sheriff’s department spokesman.
The emergency order directed county officials to release Luther, who reopened her salon despite state restrictions, on a personal bond with no money required, “pending final disposition of her case.”
County officials also were ordered to file a response to the challenge by 4 p.m. Monday, the same day Luther’s weeklong sentence for contempt of court would have ended.
The ruling came shortly after Gov. Greg Abbott, seeking to end a political firestorm over Luther’s jailing, announced Thursday that officials will be prohibited from jailing Texans for violating any of his coronavirus-related executive orders.
“Throwing Texans in jail who have had their businesses shut down through no fault of their own is nonsensical, and I will not allow it to happen,” Abbott said in a statement. “That is why I am modifying my executive orders to ensure confinement is not a punishment for violating an order.”
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Luther caught the attention of three of the state’s top Republicans — Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Luther, who opened Salon à la Mode nearly two weeks ago, was found in contempt for ignoring a court order to close from state District Judge Eric Moyé, who sentenced her to seven days in Dallas County jail Tuesday and hit her with a $7,000 fine.
The petition challenging Luther’s incarceration, filed Wednesday by lawyers including state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, argued that she was exercising her right to run a business in ways that protected customer health by, among other steps, requiring stylists to wear face coverings, seating patrons 6 feet apart and sanitizing regularly touched surfaces.
“There is no evidence that her business posed any greater risk to the public than businesses being allowed to operate, such as movie theaters, day cares, and home improvement stores,” the Supreme Court petition said.
Under Abbott’s stay-at-home order, issued in March, salons and other nonessential businesses were required to close.
State law sets the punishment for violating disaster-related executive orders at a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 180 days of jail time.
Abbott’s latest executive order suspended “all relevant laws” that allow jail time “for violating any order issued in response to the COVD-19 disaster.”
The order allowed salons and barber shops to open immediately.
“Some local officials have been reckless, imprisoning women for wanting to work to put food on the table for their children,” state Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, said on Twitter.
Other Republicans offered backhanded praise.
“Gov. Abbott, throwing Texans in jail whose businesses shut down through no fault of their own is wrong. Thank you for admitting that,” said state Rep. Mike Lang, R-Granbury.
Abbott was to head to the White House to meet with President Donald Trump to discuss the state’s response to the coronavirus. Abbott plans to reopen much of the Texas economy by May 18.
Retail stores, restaurants, malls, museums, libraries and movie theaters were allowed to reopen May 1 at 25% capacity. Barber shops and salons can reopen Friday, also at 25% capacity. May 18, nonessential manufacturing and office-based businesses can reopen.
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This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Salon owner Shelley Luther out of jail on Texas Supreme Court order