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Bernie Sanders Endorses Audia Jones for Harris County D.A.

Jones is challenging incumbent Kim Ogg in the 2020 election.

Courtesy of Audia Jones

On Thursday, Vermont senator and 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders endorsed Audia Jones in her campaign for Harris County district attorney. Jones is challenging incumbent Kim Ogg, first elected to the office in 2016, in next month’s Democratic primary. 

“I’m proud to endorse these progressive leaders for the important offices of state and district attorney,” Sanders said in a statement to Politico. “Now is the moment to fundamentally transform our racist and broken criminal justice system by ending mass incarceration, the failed war on drugs and the criminalization of poverty, and that’s exactly what they’ll do.” Sanders also endorsed incumbent Cook County, Illinois prosecutor Kim Foxx; Kane County, Illinois prosecutor candidate Junaid “J” Afeef; and Travis County prosecutor hopeful José Garza on Thursday.

“I am honored to have earned the endorsement of Senator Bernie Sanders and to join him in his continued fight for justice,” Jones said in a text message to The Appeal. “Senator Sanders has been steadfast in his vision of justice, a vision that is designed to speak for all [of] us. I am committed to pursuing that vision of a fair, equitable and fiscally responsible legal system here in Harris County as the next District Attorney.”

Criminal justice reform advocates have criticized Ogg for, they say, failing to fulfill key campaign promises. Despite calling cash bail “a tool to oppress the poor” during her campaign, her office pushed for high bond amounts for minor charges like marijuana possession and criminal trespass after she took office. “This directive is coming directly from me,” she wrote in a December 2017 email obtained by The Appeal, instructing subordinates to request bond of $15,000 in misdemeanor cases. “It is our duty as prosecutors to preserve public safety and to help assure the appearance of defendants in court.”

Ogg also opposed a court-approved settlement to restructure Harris County’s bail system for those charged with misdemeanors, and continues to pursue the death penalty. “It really does make it difficult to view her as a reformer if she’s filing eight new cases for execution,” Jay Jenkins, the Harris County project attorney with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, told The Appeal last year. (The Justice Collaborative maintains a blog opposing Ogg’s re-election campaign. The Appeal is an editorially-independent project of The Justice Collaborative and is not involved in The Justice Collaborative’s advocacy.)

Jones, who served as a deputy district attorney under Ogg, is now challenging her former boss for leadership of the office. If elected, she has pledged to make nonviolent, low-level offenses like criminal trespass into cite-and-release offenses; to decline to prosecute sex work or marijuana possession; and to further reform the bail system for people charged with felony offenses, in addition to doing so for those charged with misdemeanors. 

Jones has also been endorsed by, among others, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, former Queens district attorney candidate Tiffany Cabán, and Real Justice PAC. Lawyers Carvana Cloud—another former assistant district attorney under Ogg—and Todd Overstreet are also vying for the Democratic nomination.

The role of prosecutors has figured prominently in this year’s Democratic presidential primary. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren endorsed Foxx and Garza in January, citing a need to “transform our criminal justice system.” 

Presidential candidates have also been scrutinized for their pasts as prosecutors. Criminal justice advocates criticized California Senator Kamala Harris’s tenure as San Francisco DA, during which she advocated for prosecuting parents of truant children, and as California attorney general, during which her office fought a federal court order directing the state to release certain nonviolent offenders from overcrowded prisons. 

Last month, the Associated Press published an investigation of the conviction of Myon Burrell, whom Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar prosecuted for murder as Hennepin County Attorney. The investigation “uncovered new evidence and myriad inconsistencies” in the case, “raising questions about whether [Burrell] was railroaded by police.”