Texas AG calls for release of salon owner jailed for reopening in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions

DALLAS -- Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is calling for the immediate release of the Dallas salon owner who was jailed for seven days after she refused to apologize for opening her business in defiance of countywide COVID-19 restrictions.

Paxton sent a letter to a Judge Eric Moye after his ruling Tuesday, May 5 that jailed Shelley Luther for a week, one for each day her salon was open after the court ordered her to close.

In a release, Paxton said the judge “abused his authority” by jailing Luther for opening her salon “to feed her family.”

Click here to read the full letter.

“I find it outrageous and out of touch that during this national pandemic, a judge, in a county that actually released hardened criminals for fear of contracting COVID-19, would jail a mother for operating her hair salon in an attempt to put food on her family’s table,” AG Paxton said in a statement. “The trial judge did not need to lock up Shelley Luther. His order is a shameful abuse of judicial discretion, which seems like another political stunt in Dallas. He should release Ms. Luther immediately.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott also released a statement -- agreeing with AG Paxton:

"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 judge offered Luther, owner of Salon a la Mode, a deal -- apologize for being selfish for having her salon open while everyone else’s were closed, pay a fine, shut down until Friday, May 8, and she could avoid jail time.

"I have to disagree with you, sir, when you say that I'm selfish -- because feeding my kids is not selfish," Luther told the judge. "I have hairstylists that are going hungry because they would 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."

Since she refused to apologize, bailiffs led the woman away to be booked into jail. The seven-day sentence represents the seven days her salon was open in spite of the countywide order.

Moye had previously granted the city of Dallas a temporary restraining order and told the salon owner to close her doors immediately. He agreed the business posed "adverse public health effects" from the spread of COVID-19.

But Luther, who had already been cited by city officials, ignored the TRO issued by the judge.

The hearing Tuesday, which sometimes became contentious, took a brief recess during Governor Abbott's news conference that included details about the reopening of barbershops and hair salons Friday, May 8.

Luther’s sentence was seven days in jail for the criminal violation and seven days for the civil violation. The sentences will run concurrently. She must also pay a $7,000 fine.