Judge sets $1 bond for woman who wasn’t released from jail due to COVID-19 state executive order

Bexar County court will decide on constitutionality of executive order, which affects jail population

SAN ANTONIO – A Bexar County judge set bond at $1 for Janie Villeda and other inmates who are awaiting release from the Bexar County Jail.

The move was made after a hearing in the 379th District Criminal Court dealing with the constitutionality of Gov. Greg Abbot’s executive order, or GA-13, that he issued on March 29, 2020, at the height of the pandemic. The order heavily limited jail releases.

Villeda’s public defender, Michael Young, argued his case to Judge Ron Rangel.

“What we are asking is that Judge Rangel, find that it’s unconstitutional,” Young said. “Find that Gov. Abbott did not have the authority to issue this order, suspending the laws.”

Janie Villeda was issued a $1 bond after her release from jail was denied due to Gov. Greg Abbott executive order. (Copyright 2021 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)

Young argued that the executive order was not valid and that the legislature can only make such an order that would prevent the release of inmates.

Villeda was sentenced to a year in prison on a misdemeanor assault charge. Due to good behavior, she should have been released on May 24, but due to the executive order Sheriff Javier Salazar denied the release.

“She was being a good prisoner, thinking she was going to get released early, and at the end of the day, the sheriff says, ‘I would love to let you go, but I can’t because of GA-13,’” Young said.

This executive order has been a problem for Salazar and the county, causing overcrowding issues inside the Bexar County Jail during throughout the pandemic.

Last July, Salazar, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, District Attorney Joe Gonzales and Rangel sent a letter to the governor asking him to reverse the executive order that limits judges’ abilities to release inmates on personal bonds.

Despite the governor reopening Texas, the executive order provision on jail releases has not yet been lifted.

Judges in Harris and Travis County have already ruled the executive order is unconstitutional in similar cases.

“He has an appeal and the attorney general hasn’t appeared,” Young said. “So we believe the governor is just letting each individual county enforce it, challenge it, and it’s not objecting.”

On Wednesday, Rangel decided he was not going to rule on the constitutionality of the executive order just ye,t but did rule that Villega be issued a $1 bond.

“I’m going to the jail right now to pay the one dollar to get our client out,” Young said.

Rangel can rule on the case as early as Friday.

In a statement to KSAT 12, Salazar said:

“At the start of the COVID pandemic, but prior to the Governor’s order in March of 2020, the judiciary, the Public Defender and the DA’s office assisted greatly with reducing our jail population by issuing PR bonds. It had an immediate impact on our overtime levels at the jail and reduced taxpayer expenses to house incarcerated individuals. This was done safely, and without adversely affecting the crime rate. I am hopeful that we will once again be able to reduce our jail population, reduce the amount of jail overtime, and most importantly save tax dollars.”

KSAT 12 reached out to the Governor’s Office for comment on this case but did not hear back on Wednesday.

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About the Authors:

Erica Hernandez is an Emmy award-winning journalist with15 years of experience in the broadcast news business. Erica has covered a wide array of stories all over Central and South Texas. She's currently the court reporter and cohost of the podcast Texas Crime Stories.

Sal Salazar is a photojournalist at KSAT 12. Before coming to KSAT in 1998, he worked at the Fox affiliate in San Antonio. Sal started off his career back in 1995 for the ABC Affiliate in Lubbock and has covered many high-profile news events since. In his free time, he enjoys spending time at home, gaming and loves traveling with his wife.