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Texas attorney general says judge should release jailed salon owner

Shelley Luther was also ordered to pay thousands in fines for refusing to shut down her salon in violation a judge's order.

DALLAS, Texas —

Texas' attorney general is calling for the release of a Dallas salon owner who defied a judge's temporary restraining order and was sentenced to seven days in jail.

Ken Paxton stated that State District Judge Eric Moyé abused his authority by putting Salon a la Mode owner Shelley Luther in jail.

Luther continued offering services at her salon despite a citation, cease-and-desist letter and a temporary restraining order issued by Moyé. On Tuesday, she was also ordered to pay thousands in fines for refusing to shut down her salon in violation of orders for non-essential businesses to remain closed.

City attorneys argued Tuesday that she was open in violation of the judge's temporary restraining order.

"As a mother, Ms. Luther wanted to feed her children. As a small business owner, she wanted to help her employees feed their children," Paxton wrote in a letter to Moyé. "Needless to say, these are laudable goals that warrant the exercise of enforcement discretion."

Paxton also wrote that the Dallas County Sheriff's Office requested that agencies bring fewer people to jail due to the COVID-19 outbreak so Moyé should use discretion in Luther's case.

Luther was sentenced to jail time after violating the restraining order and receiving warnings.

"It's unusual to put somebody in jail for doing their job. I wish he would let her go. She's been fined, she's been punished, she's already in jail. Let her out,” Paxton told WFAA.

Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement in support of Paxton and Luther.

"As I have made clear through prior pronouncements, jailing Texans for non-compliance with executive orders should always be the last available option," Abbott said in the statement, in part. "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." 

On Tuesday, Abbott announced that salons will be allowed to reopen Friday.

"Ms. Luther will be allowed to lawfully operate her business in just two days," Paxton wrote. "Confining Ms. Luther for seven days, well after she could be operating her business and providing for her children, is unjustifiable."

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick even tweeted that he would pay Luther's fines and would go under house arrest in her stead so she could go back to work. 

In response to Paxton's letter, 12 civil district judges for Dallas County signed an open letter, saying his letter to urge Moyé to do something was "most inappropriate and equally unwelcome."

"We trust that this shall not happen further," the letter said. "For the sake of all of the citizens of Texas, please let the judicial process play out without any further interference."

RELATED: Dallas salon owner who refused to close sentenced to 7 days in jail, ordered to pay fines

Meanwhile, the Dallas County Democratic Party issued a statement Tuesday in support of Moyé, saying:

"The right of the greater community to safety during a pandemic outweighs the right of a single business owner. Judge Moyé gave Luther a reasonable opportunity to remedy her status in contempt of court. She refused the offer."

On Tuesday, Moyé heard testimony from a Dallas code inspector and a Dallas police officer who both testified they saw clients inside the salon getting haircuts and manicures over the last seven days despite Moyé’s rulings.

City attorneys argued Luther willfully and flagrantly violated Moyé’s order.

Luther took the stand saying she had to open out of necessity.

“I have no choice. I need to feed my family and my stylists could not feed their families,” Luther said.

But she also testified she had recently received a loan from the federal government.

Moyé asked Luther if she was still operating to this day.

“Yes, partially," Luther said.

Moyé told Luther she was both criminally and civilly in violation of his order.

He said Luther could not just take matters into her own hands because she decided that's what she wanted to do. He also said if Luther would apologize, he'd only hit her with fines and not jail time. 

Luther refused.

“The rule of law governs us," Moyé said. "People can not take it upon themselves to determine what they will and will not do."

'I hope to spring her' 

Luther's attorney Warren Norred told WFAA that he's trying to not pay attention to the political jabs being delivered. 

He just wants to get Luther out of jail as soon as possible. 

"There are executive orders saying you can't work, but they don't say you don't have to pay your bills," Norred said. "In Dallas County, you can steal $749 and avoid jail time but if you try to earn it the old fashioned way you do  go to jail." 

Norred was referring to the Dallas County District Attorney's office recent mandate to not prosecute theft under $750. 

On Wednesday, Norred filed a writ of Habeas Corpus with the Texas Supreme Court. 

The writ, per Norred, challenges Luther's imprisonment due to the fact that she was not offered bail. 

Usually, the 5th District Court of Appeals would hear such a petition. But since it has a majority of Democratic judges, a legal expert told WFAA that it's likely the move to petition the Texas Supreme Court was strategic. 

Norred hopes that Luther is released by the weekend. 

"We hope that they will require her to be let out on bail so she can get back to her family in time for Mother's Day," Norred said. "I don't expect it to take the whole week, I expect them to tell us something."

A GoFundMe account has been set up for Luther and as of Wednesday night it had raised at least $500,000 dollars. 

RELATED: Dallas judge issues temporary restraining order requiring Salon a La Mode to close immediately

WFAA reporter Rebecca Lopez contributed to this report.

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