No phone, no pay – not yet
Mark Henry tells court Bonnie Quiroga ‘has no job’
COUNTY JUDGE Mark Henry endured almost a day in the witness box as the most important civil legal case in Galveston for some years continued on Monday.
Henry began the day answering questions from independent Galveston attorney Mark Stevens, who is representing 56th-district-court judge Lonnie Cox in the two county leaders’ dispute about the supervision of a key member of staff.
Visiting judge Sharolyn Wood listened to witness and counsel trading at-times testy retorts as Stevens attempted to extract information from a feisty Henry in a bid to persuade Wood to grant an injunction preventing the county commissioners from taking any action relating to the work of the county’s justice administration department.
Stevens quizzed Henry on the timing of his first reference to insubordination as a reason for firing the department’s boss, justice administration director Bonnie Quiroga, in July last year.
The county judge said it was correct that insubordination had not been mentioned in her termination letter.
Part of Stevens’ questioning involved the changing of the lock on the door of Quiroga’s former office at the time of her reinstatement by Cox and his supporting judges on June 8.
Henry said he had not instructed changing the lock before Quiroga tried to gain entry but had told a locksmith to change it later that day.
He said the county was continuing to deny her the use of the office, as well as a phone, e-mail account and computer, or to pay her, because she is not an employee of the organization.
When asked why she could not have a phone, he said: “She doesn’t have an office – she doesn’t need a phone.”
Asked why the county is not paying her, he replied: “She doesn’t have a job.”
The mood changed significantly when Henry’s own counsel, Ed Friedman of the Houston office of major national law firm BakerHostetler, began questioning his client.
Henry said the county commissioners had not reduced Quiroga’s salary in deciding on June 13 that the judges could have a court administrator earning between $57,000 and some $63,600.
“We didn’t reduce anyone’s salary,” he said. “We created a new position.”
He said the new position would carry responsibility for about 25 per cent of the workload previously under Quiroga’s control.
Asked later why he fired her, he accused her of “misappropriation of funds”, of “mismanagement of JP collections” and “excessive absences” from work.
County legal department chief Bob Boemer and Henry’s chief of staff, Tyler Drummond, also gave evidence on Monday, with Drummond still on the stand when Wood halted proceedings for the day.
The Post will report on further sessions of the case in Sunday’s edition.
Lerner lesson in complexity
A quick guide to the case’s legal procedure
AS IF THE dispute between the county commissioners and local judges were not complex enough, it took an extra twist on Friday when part of the case being heard in the 405th district court was transferred to the 56th – with the same visiting judge presiding for that hearing.
The reason for the split was twofold.
First, visiting judge Sharolyn Wood decreed that the temporary restraining order that is the subject of the case involves two claims – one for an injunction and the other for a contempt-of-court ruling – and that their legal rules of evidence are distinctly different, requiring separate hearings.
She declared that the correct procedure for determining the contempt element was to remand it back to the court that had made the order occasioning the alleged contempt. That court is the 56th district court and the alleged contempt claims that the defendant before her, county judge Mark Henry, and his colleagues on the commissioners’ court have contravened an order signed there on September 24 last year.
Second, because the plaintiff before her, Lonnie Cox, is the presiding judge in the 56th and signed the disputed order, he immediately voluntarily recused himself from the contempt hearing, necessitating the appointment of a visiting judge in his stead.
Wood had already been told by appointing judge Olen Underwood of the state’s second judicial district that she has jurisdiction for every element of the dispute so, when her work in the 405th has ended, she will move on to the 56th to determine whether Henry and the commissioners are in contempt of Cox’s September order.
At present, she is standing in for the 405th’s Michelle Slaughter who, as one of the judges standing foursquare behind Cox in the suit, has recused herself from its hearings.
Complicated? It gets worse. In case you want to watch the most experienced members of our local government beating themselves up in the case being heard by the 405th (and assuming that, by the time you read this, it will still be rumbling along), you’ll need to present yourself not there but at the county justice center’s Lerner court.
We’re not yet sure who decided that – somehow, we doubt that it was the newly reinstated Miss Quiroga – but let’s hope it indicates that there’s still a wicked sense of humor somewhere within the walls of the Galveston County establishment.