Texas Court Jails Hair Stylist for Defying Health Orders, Contempt of Court

A district court in Dallas County has fined a hair stylist $3,500 and thrown her in jail for operating in defiance of public health orders and a restraining order from the court.

Shelley Luther, owner of Salon A La Mode, opened her business last week, offering haircuts and manicures. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkin issued a cease-and-desist letter, but the stylist publicly tore it up at an ‘Open Texas’ protest rally in front of Frisco City Hall on Saturday.

The 14th District Court of Texas issued a temporary restraining order last Tuesday, April 28, telling Luther to ‘cease operation.’ Police officers then visited the business repeatedly to check whether the order was being followed, but Luther refused to comply.

Judge Eric Moyé hit her with a $500 fine for each day that she defied the restraining order.

The case, State of Texas v. S&B Hot Mess Enterprises and Shelly Luther, is noteworthy because thus far authorities throughout Texas have mostly avoided heavy-handed enforcement of coronavirus-related public health orders, instead relying on voluntary compliance.

This may the the highest profile case in which the State actually flexed its muscles. Adding weight to the decision was a notification earlier in the day from the Texas Supreme Court, denying a petition for writ of mandamus.

That basically means that the Supreme Court decided not intervene, at least for now, leaving the matter to Judge Moyé to decide. In a memo (concurring opinion) explaining their reasoning, four Supreme Court justices wrote, “Those who object to these (public health) restrictions should remember they were imposed by duly elected officials, vested by statute with broad emergency powers, who must make difficult decisions under difficult circumstances.”

The hair stylist’s lawyer before the Supreme Court was Briscoe Cain, a state legislator, who contended that state and local public health orders are unconstitutional. He made headlines of his own accord earlier on Tuesday by sitting for a haircut at a Houston-area salon.

‘Your Actions were Selfish’

Two witnesses testified at the trial, a Dallas County code enforcement officer, and a City of Dallas police officer, according to video of the trial that Judge Moyé posted on YouTube.

The officer testified that he visited the salon on three separate days after the court’s restraining order. During each visit he witnessed people waiting outside for haircuts, getting haircuts inside, and getting manicures.

In sentencing the stylist, the judge told her, “Ms. Luther, there may be circumstances which you genuinely believe are acute. You may believe that these mandate your actions in open, direct, and notorious violation of the order promulgated by our elected officials.”

“Hopefully this experience has brought you to the realization that because you believe there’s something you want to do, you do not have the right to independently supersede state law. A determination has been made that you are in contempt of this court. You refused to shut down your business in the face of a restraining order that required you to do so.”

“You continued to operate your business for a full week even after being ordered not to… society cannot function where one’s own belief in a concept of liberty permits you to flaunt your disdain for the rulings of duly elected officials.”

The judge then offered not to jail Luther if she would agree to close her salon and apologize for her actions. He asked her to “acknowledge that your actions were selfish, putting your own interests ahead of the community in which you lived, that they disrespected the executive orders of the state, the orders of the county and the city…”

She refused. “Judge I would like to say that I have much respect for this court and laws and that I’ve never been in this position before and it’s not some place that I want to be,” she said. “But I have to disagree with you, sir, when you say that I’m selfish.”

“Because feeding my kids is not selfish. I have hair stylists that are going hungry because they’d rather feed their kids. So sir, if you think that the law is more important then kids getting fed, then please go ahead with your decision. But I am not going to shut the salon.”

The judge then found Luther in criminal contempt and remanded her to the custody of the Sheriff of Dallas County as punishment for violation of the court’s restraining order, one day in jail for each day that she violated the court’s order.

Luther’s wholly owned company, S&B Hot Mess Enterprises, was ordered to pay a fine of $3,500 within 30 days. If the salon remains in operation on any day between now and May 8, it will pay an additional $500 per day that it remains open.

If the defendant had waited another week, she would have been allowed to open her business lawfully. Governor Greg Abbott announced today that starting May 8, hair salons and nail salons may reopen, provided that they ensure six feet space between work stations.

Originally published at https://www.honestaustin.com on May 6, 2020.

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Honest Austin

Original reporting on local Austin news, Texas politics, and the economy. honestaustin.com