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.”