Politics

By Ian White

THE COUNTY’S executive and judiciary were told on Monday to appoint a mediator to try to settle their dispute about the supervision of the justice administration department.
The state’s first court of appeals, which sits in Houston, was responding to a flurry of paperwork filed by both sides last week as they each sought legal authority for their claims to the right to hire and fire staff for the department.
One of the filings was sent to the court as recently as Saturday, when attorney Mark Stevens forwarded a copy of a county e-mail he claimed was proof that county judge Mark Henry
is flouting court orders
and should be held in contempt immediately.
Henry and Stevens’ client, administrative judge Lonnie Cox, have been at loggerheads since July last year, when the county judge summarily fired JAD director Bonnie Quiroga.
Early this month, Cox won an injunction instructing the county to give Quiroga her job back and preventing it from replacing her or the department before Henry goes before a contempt trial in January.
The county appealed last week and said doing so automatically stays the injunction, leading Stevens to submit motions on Friday in which he asked the Houston court to quash the appeal and to confirm the validity of the injunction without delay.
Later that day, he received a copy of an e-mail Henry sent to county treasurer Kevin Walsh on Thursday, telling the official why it was not legally possible to pay Quiroga yesterday, Tuesday, for her work since June 8.
Among the reasons was that the county commissioners have not sanctioned her return to work and that, effectively, she is not an employee of the county.
On Saturday, Stevens forwarded the document to the appeals court in a supplementary motion in which he called the message “an act of astonishing defiance towards the justice system”.
On Monday, appeals-court judge Terry Jennings issued the order to go to mediation, giving the parties 10 days in which to file any objection and 45 days in which to reach agreement or return to court.
On receiving the order, Stevens said: “This does not indicate how the court thinks about the case. It’s standard practice and possibly means the justices want us to have one more shot.”
He was not optimistic that mediation will work, however, saying: “The judges and county commissioners have made several attempts to settle this argument and they have been absolutely fruitless.”
When asked for the county’s reaction to the development, commissioner Ryan Dennard said: “We are always happy to mediate. The problem is that the judges have increased their demands fairly significantly during the course of negotiations to include Judge Cox’s control over the JAD budgeting process and legislative control of judicial functions. By law, we can’t allow that. We can’t give them a blank check.”

By Ian White

ATTORNEY Mark Stevens is asking the state’s first court of appeals to hold county judge Mark Henry and seven other people in contempt for conspiring to defy a court order in their fight for control of the county justice center’s administration department.
The other seven include all the county commissioners except newcomer Joe Giusti, two senior county employees and two outside attorneys.
One of the outside attorneys, Joe Nixon, only became involved in the argument on Tuesday, when he wrote to Stevens to say he now represents Henry in the case and that Bonnie Quiroga is barred from all county property other than public areas.
The new attorney, who works for Houston law firm Beirne, Maynard & Parsons, also said the recently reinstated justice-administration-department director has no job in the organization and will not be paid for the time she has spent at the justice center since Cox and other judges readmitted her on June 8.
Appended to his letter was a copy of an appeal filed on Monday against a temporary restraining order issued by visiting judge Sharolyn Wood to prevent the county from replacing Quiroga and forcing it to rehire her following her summary termination in July last year.
Unenforceable
The TRO is set to last until January 11, when Henry must defend himself against Cox’s original allegation of contempt, which the 56th-district-court judge filed last month nine months after issuing his own order declaring Henry’s act in firing Quiroga illegal.
Nixon told Stevens the appeal automatically stayed the TRO, contending that it is unenforceable under both the state’s civil practices and remedies code and its rules of appellate procedure.
Stevens’ response was to draft a motion to enforce the TRO and hold Henry “and those acting in concert with him” in contempt, arguing that they have attempted to impede enforcement of the order by prevarication, “grudging” provision of office equipment to Quiroga and “a veiled effort” to direct county sheriff Trochessett to bar Quiroga from the justice center.
He said Quiroga’s name had been removed from the July 21 payroll at the direction of an unknown member of the county’s legal department on Thursday and named the head of the department, Bob Boemer, among the people he wants held in contempt.
The others were human-resources department director Peri Bluemer, county commissioners Ryan Dennard, Steven Holmes and Ken Clark and Austin attorney Jim Allison, who represented the county in its unsuccessful attempt to gain a writ of mandamus against Cox for his order of September last year.
Stevens said on Friday that he had filed the motion, along with a petition for emergency action to enforce the TRO, with the first court of appeals, which sits in Houston.
The court has already denied one motion in which the county asked on July 6 for the TRO to be stayed pending appeal. The court rejected that application on July 8.
Meanwhile, a source close to the case told The Post that Quiroga was still at her desk at the county justice center on Friday even though she was aware she is no longer on the county’s payroll.

150717 Cox emergency motion

150717 Cox enforcement motion

Dennard, Ryan2                   Ryan Dennard

By Ian White

REPUBLICANS including Randy Weber and Ted Cruz rounded on president Barack Obama on Tuesday after negotiators in Vienna, Austria, reached a potential deal with Iran over its nuclear-energy activities.
Many, like the county’s US representative, chastised the federal administration for the deal, even though America was just one of six nations involved in its 20 months of negotiations with the Middle East state.
China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom were also at the table and all had to sign off on the agreement, which proposes to free Iran from international economic sanctions in return for its limitation of its nuclear program to a level at which it cannot produce material for a nuclear weapon.
However, that did little to impress Weber, who said: “This administration has put our allies and this nation into harm’s way – plain and simple. A nuclear Iran has gone from a distant possibility to now an unavoidable future.”
Cruz, the state’s junior US senator, also blamed Obama, saying: “It seems President Obama would concede almost anything to get any deal – even a terrible deal – from the Islamic Republic of Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.”
But he was not too pessimistic about the outcome.
“Thankfully, it is not a done deal,” he said, referring to the fact that the US congress has 60 days from Tuesday in which to decide whether to accept or reject the deal, during which time the economic sanctions must remain in place.
Should Washington’s lawmakers opt to reject the agreement and keep the sanctions in place, Obama can veto their decision, but they could overturn the veto with a two-thirds-majority vote.
Referring to that possibility, Weber said: “One thing is for sure – I will vehemently oppose [this deal], work towards securing a veto-proof majority vote and fight to ensure [it] does not happen.”
Another Republican in agreement with Weber and Cruz was house speaker John Boehner, who said: “Instead of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, this deal is likely to fuel a nuclear arms race around the world.”

Read below for an in-depth look at the nuclear-program agreement.

This week’s Iran agreement has brought debate about safety for all Americans

Why all the fuss about centrifuges?

EVERYONE who has ridden a carnival carousel, watched a James Bond film or seen clips of NASA astronauts in training probably knows that, by spinning at high speed, a centrifuge simulates the effect of gravity to force objects inside it against its outer wall.
Heavier objects are forced out to the wall while lighter objects are separated from them and move toward the center, or axis, of the centrifuge.
It is that separation, or sedimentation, effect that scientists use when they spin a gaseous form of uranium in a centrifuge to build up its concentration of the isotope needed for nuclear fission.
They need to do that because, in its raw form, uranium is not suitable for nuclear use at all.
First, its mined ore needs to be processed to become uranium oxide, which possesses two isotopes, about one per cent of which are U-235 and the other 99 per cent the slightly heavier U-238.
It’s the U-235 isotope that can be used to produce electricity or a nuclear bomb, but only in larger concentrations, so the oxide is turned into the gas uranium hexafluoride by mixing it with hydrofluoric acid.
Having been converted to a gaseous state, the uranium can now be spun in a centrifuge to separate the two isotopes. Gradually, the heavier U-238 atoms are separated from the lighter U-235 atoms and move closer to the outer wall.
As the gas remaining at the center of the centrifuge becomes slightly richer in the U-235 isotope, it is removed to another centrifuge and the process begins again. Repeat it enough times in a linked array of centrifuges and the percentage of U-235 builds to a level at which the isotope’s concentration in the uranium is rich enough – between three and four per cent – for use as a fuel in nuclear reactors that produce electricity.
By conducting the enrichment process about 57 thousand times, however, the uranium can acquire the 90-per-cent concentration of U-235 atoms needed to make a nuclear warhead.
Even then, the volume from one centrifuge is unlikely to be enough for the purpose, so numerous centrifuges must be kept at work until both the quality and the quantity of the enriched uranium match the bomb-maker’s needs.
That makes the possession of a huge number of centrifuges a key plank of an efficient nuclear-weapons program.
Even with 20,000 or so, Iran’s scientists probably do not have enough to produce an atomic bomb any time soon – America and her allies hope that, with a mere 6,000 older and less efficient models at their disposal, they should be much better employed using them either to produce electricity or for medical and industrial applications.

Guide to the nuclear deal

UNDER the nuclear-program deal struck between Iran and six world powers, including the USA, the Middle East nation has agreed several undertakings, including:
• Reducing the amount of its enriched uranium by 98 per cent for 15 years;
• Reducing the number of its operating nuclear centrifuges by two thirds, with the removed equipment going into internationally supervised storage;
• Redesigning a heavy-water nuclear plant so it cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium; and
• Giving International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors permanent access to its nuclear facilities and the right to request access to its non-nuclear military facilities.
In return, the international community will lift its economic sanctions against Iran but, if the nation’s leaders in Tehran flout the agreement, the sanctions will be restored without delay.
Militarily, Tehran will continue to be subject to an arms embargo for five more years and to a missile embargo for eight years.
The restrictions on uranium and plutonium are a key plank of the agreement because both can be used to build a nuclear bomb.
To do so with uranium, the element must contain at least 90 per cent of the isotope U-235. That requires “enrichment” by separating the isotope from uranium hexafluoride gas by spinning it in a centrifuge. It takes the product of some 57,000 centrifuges to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb.
Enrichment to a concentration of between three and four per cent of the isotope is enough for the fuel used to produce electricity in nuclear power plants, the purpose for which Iran insists its nuclear activities are intended.
To be certain, the Vienna agreement decrees that the amount the nation will be allowed to keep must be held at an enrichment level of no more than 3.67 per cent.
Although Iran has less than 20,000 centrifuges at its two enrichment facilities south of Tehran, between them they have produced 33,000lb of nuclear-grade uranium. That figure will be reduced to 660lb during the life of the agreement.
The number of centrifuges the nation can use will be reduced to 6,104, with 5,060 of its oldest and least efficient at one of its enrichment sites, Natanz.
The remaining 1,044 centrifuges must be used for agricultural, industrial, medical and scientific purposes at the other site, Fordo, where no enrichment will be allowed for 15 years.
Iran’s plutonium-producing capability is based at Arak, a not-yet-commissioned heavy-water nuclear plant south-west of Tehran.
Heavy water is a form of water whose hydrogen content includes a higher-than-normal concentration of the isotope deuterium. Spent fuel from heavy-water nuclear reactors contains plutonium, so the agreement includes a section restricting the nation’s heavy-water activities.
Under that section, Iran must redesign the Arak plant so it cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium and must send all its spent fuel for storage in another country.
The Iranians have also undertaken not to build another heavy-water plant or stockpile heavy water for the next 15 years.

Kerry, John 2015                          Photo by US state department

US secretary of state John Kerry, above, led the negotiations with Iran.

Iran nuclear deal 2015                           Photo by US state department

The flags of the seven nations involved in the talks about Iran’s nuclear program stand tall behind negotiators including US secretary of state John Kerry, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and French foreign minister Laurent Fabius.

Bushehr nuclear reactor, Iran                             Photo by Mehr News Agency

The reactor building at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, the first civilian-use nuclear plant built in the Middle East, has been supplying the nation with electricity since September 2011.

Centrifuge diagram

Several websites show representations of the way centrifuges enrich uranium. This one uses an illustration provided by Federation Of American Scientists.

By Ian White

THE COUNTY commissioners have a new lawyer, a new appeal and a block on Bonnie Quiroga’s employment in their fight for control of the county justice center’s administration department.
Houston attorney Joe Nixon replaced Ed Friedman on Tuesday and immediately wrote to judge Lonnie Cox’s counsel, Mark Stevens, telling him Quiroga is barred from all county property other than public areas.
Whether Friedman resigned or was fired was not made clear. In his letter, Nixon said simply: “I now represent Mark Henry.” Friedman had not responded to a Post request for explanation by Wednesday evening.
Nixon also told Stevens the recently reinstated justice-administration-department director has no job in the organization and will not be paid for the time she has spent at the justice center since Cox and other judges readmitted her on June 8.
Nixon’s assertions flew in the face of an order by visiting judge Sharolyn Wood, who on June 25 told the commissioners to reinstate Quiroga and backdate her pay – at some $114,500 a year – to the day of her return.
But he contended that Wood’s decree – a temporary restraining order, or TRO, pending trial next January – is unenforceable under both the state’s civil practices and remedies code and its rules of appellate procedure.
The code claim relates to decisions made by Wood during the TRO hearing and the rules claim relates to the commissioners’ appeal against her order, which Friedman announced on the day of the order and filed in the state’s first court of appeals on Monday.
Referring to the appeal in his letter, Nixon told Stevens that the act of filing it automatically suspended the TRO and added: “I realize it is not necessary for you to remind your client that this matter is no longer in either his jurisdiction or the jurisdiction of the trial court, if it ever was.”
That was a reference partly to Cox’s 56th-district-court order of September 24 last year in which he declared county judge Mark Henry had acted illegally when he summarily fired Quiroga last July 24.
With the county commissioners refusing to give the job back to her in full, Cox claimed contempt of court to obtain a TRO from visiting judge David Garner on June 5 and Wood upheld that decision three weeks later.
It is the contempt claim that Henry will have to defend in the resulting trial, which is set to begin on January 11 next year.
After receiving a copy of Nixon’s letter from a source close to the case, The Post asked Stevens on Wednesday if Quiroga was still at the justice center and was told that she was at her desk but had not yet been paid according to Wood’s order.
Stevens said he disagreed with Nixon’s assessment of the rules and would be moving quickly to submit his own motion to the appeals court. He later sent an e-mail message to local journalists saying he expected to file the motion on Thursday.
Read a full update in Sunday’s edition of The Post.
The court, which sits in Houston, has already denied one motion submitted by Friedman, who works for major national law firm Baker & Hostetler’s Houston office. He asked for the TRO to be stayed pending the appeal but the court rejected his application on July 8.

150714 Nixon appt letter to Stevens

By Ian White

COUNTY judge Mark Henry has been denied a stay of enforcement of the temporary restraining order issued against him in the so-called Quiroga-case lawsuit on Monday.
His attorney, Ed Friedman of major national law firm Baker & Hostetler, applied for the stay on Tuesday, having given notice of appeal against the TRO immediately after Monday’s hearing, when visiting judge Sharolyn Wood granted it to district-court judge Lonnie Cox.
Justice Terry Jennings of Texas’ first-district court of appeals, which sits in Houston, denied the application on Wednesday.
In his denial order, Jennings, who considered the application on his own, noted that Friedman’s motion to stay the TRO said the action was “needed to prevent contempt proceedings from being initiated based on that temporary injunction and to avoid further political discord between the administrative judges of Galveston County and the Galveston County commissioners’ court”.
The appeal judge also mentioned a response to the stay motion by Cox’s attorney, independent Galveston lawyer Mark Stevens, but made no reference to its content despite the fact that it ran to 11 pages.
Nor did he mention at all a seven-page reply by Henry to Cox’s response but it is possible that his order had been written before that reply was filed at 4:16pm on Wednesday.
As reason for his denial, Jennings compared Henry’s argument with a 2013 case in which a 14th-district appeals panel had concluded that the appellant “had not shown entitlement to temporary relief” under the relevant Texas appeals procedure. That case, in turn, had cited a 1990 case in which a first-district panel had ruled that the appellant in such appeals “make a clear showing that it is entitled to relief”.
The TRO at the center of the appeal was granted to Cox pending trial next year of his claim that Henry is in contempt of court for not following an order he signed in his 56th district court in September last year.
That order stated that Henry’s summary firing of county justice administration department director Bonnie Quiroga last July was illegal and that the county commissioners could not proceed with an already-started selection process to hire a replacement for her.
On Monday, visiting judge Sharolyn Wood ruled that Henry must face the contempt charge on January 11 next year and that, in the meantime, the county must reinstate Quiroga and provide the judiciary at the county justice center with the fully supported services of a justice administration department reporting to Cox.
Wood’s order also enjoined the county from taking any action or giving its staff any instructions that might impede or otherwise adversely affect the work of the department.
Every member of the department’s staff on July 23 last year must be kept in their job and at their then salary scales.
At the time, Quiroga was earning some $114,500 per year, a salary that Henry and the county commissioners’ court want to reduce to a figure somewhere between $57,000 and $63,600.

Why the Quiroga case matters – Read Ian White: A landmark test worth the brouhaha’