Patriots in the Lone Star State of Texas are cheering a recent state Supreme Court order to release from the Dallas County jail a hair salon owner who continued operations during the mandatory COVID-19 lockdown – to feed her family and those of her employees. The defendant’s truthful responses and statement that she would do the same thing again were interpreted by the judge as grounds for contempt of court, prompting a hefty fine and imprisonment without bail for the working mom.
Dallas County residents received stay-at-home orders on March 22, 2020. These unprecedented new rules named salons and barbershops as “non-essential” and forced them to send employees home to wait for a government welfare check.
Hair salon owner Shelley Luther complied and closed her business. One month later, on April 22, the frustrated employer announced that her business was essential, darn it, and she had had enough with social distancing, quarantines, and Depression-era unemployment:
“We have the constitutional right to be able to work to provide for our families, to pay our mortgages and I don’t feel it’s right to close us down for this long period of time.”
Furthermore, the customer counts:
“We have some ladies that have been getting their hair done by these hairstylists for over 30 years. It’s a big deal for them to look nice and look presentable. It’s got to be very, very depressing for them to not be able to get out of the house at all when they’re feeling okay – they’re not sick. They just want to look nice.”
The enterprising salon owner came up with her own measures for safeguarding her valuable clients from infection:
- Stations set up six feet apart
- Clients must stay in their cars until their appointments
- Everyone must wear a mask (provided by the salon) before entering the establishment
- Anyone feeling ill or experiencing any COVID symptoms, please stay home
- Stylists must change gloves after each client visit and wash their hands frequently
Luther was aware of the health risks for herself, her employees, and her patrons but defended our U.S. civil liberties:
“I don’t want anyone to get hurt or anyone to get sick. I feel like if people want to stay home, they can stay home…No one is forcing…any clients to come in if they don’t want to. It is their personal choice as an American to come into the salon if they want to and they have that right.”
Luther had received a violation notice at midday on April 24 but chose not to heed it. She was joined at her Salon à la Mode by two stylists and a nail technician – a fraction of her usual workforce. A few locals showed up to show their support for the hair salon workers’ civil rights.
On the afternoon of April 28, State District Judge Eric Moyé issued a temporary restraining order against S&B Hot Mess Enterprises, which does business as Salon à la Mode.
That evening, Luther posted a Facebook video and said she was prepared to face the music:
“If I have to…go to jail to prove a point that what they’re doing is totally unconstitutional, then that’s what happens. I’m not scared.”
The salon owner publicly tore up the cease-and-desist order from Dallas County.
In a video hearing on May 5, 2020, Luther stated she ignored the coronavirus restrictions so she and her employees could survive:
“I couldn’t feed my family and my stylists couldn’t feed their families.”
State District Judge Eric Moyé ordered Luther to pay a fine of $3,500, along with $500 per day her salon remained open until Friday, May 8.
Judge Moyé offered Luther the fine alone with no jail time if she would apologize for her upstart actions and keep her business closed until the government gave the green light to reopen. The small business owner would have none of it and gave the judge a piece of her mind:
“Feeding my kids is not selfish. 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.”
Moyé found Luther in contempt of court, fined her $7,000, and sentenced her to a week in jail without bail. She was arrested immediately after the hearing and booked into the Dallas County jail. In his judgment of contempt, the judge wrote:
“The defiance of the court’s order was open, flagrant, and intentional.”
Having been given a chance to admit she was wrong and the State was right, Luther “expressed no contrition, remorse or regret.”
For this, Luther was fined and sentenced to a week in jail, away from her kids, unable to provide for them.
Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick saw the injustice being served by the State District judge and tweeted he would help a fellow citizen in need:
“7 days in jail, no bail and a $7K fine is outrageous. No surprise Texans are responding. I’m covering the $7K fine she had to pay and I volunteer to be placed under House Arrest so she can go to work and feed her kids.”
Ironically, the socially-distanced hearing occurred after Gov. Greg Abbott eased more restrictions across the state, permitting barbershops and hair salons to reopen on May 8.
A GoFundMe page that was set up for Luther has been shut down after donations to help the working mom topped half a million dollars. The goal was originally $250,000 before it was increased to $500,000.
The nine judges on the Texas Supreme Court, all Republicans, are deliberating on an appeal challenging Luther’s incarceration as improper.