Cox in supreme court again as junior judges’ county request upsets him

By Ian White

LONNIE COX and three of his fellow judges at the county justice center were at loggerheads on Monday after the junior-court jurists asked the county commissioners to set up a court-administrator system even though the county already has one. cox, lonnie2
Cox, left, the justice center’s administrative judge, lodged an emergency motion asking the state’s supreme court to prevent the county commissioners acting on the request after they listed it in the agenda for their meeting set for yesterday, Tuesday.
The judge and the commissioners are currently awaiting the supreme court’s decision on whether to hear their long-running legal argument over who has the right to oversee the county’s justice administration department.
Cox told The Post on Monday evening that the requested system would be “a parallel and duplicate of the justice administration department we already have” but one of the three county-court judges who submitted the request said he could not understand “what all the hubbub is about”.
Cox, who sits in the 56th district court at Galveston, placed his 40-page emergency motion on the Austin court’s docket after learning that the commissioners planned to consider “approval of staffing and structure of [a] court administration department including related budgetary action” during the meeting.grady-john-2014-cropped
He maintained that such action would be a “direct and flagrant violation” of a temporary injunction he won from visiting judge Sharolyn Wood in June last year preventing the commissioners taking any action regarding the county’s justice administration department pending a contempt trial in which county judge Mark Henry is accused of failing to follow orders issued by Cox in September 2014 and May 2015.
The trial has yet to take place because Henry and his fellow county commissioners appealed Wood’s judgment and, on losing the appeal, petitioned the supreme court for a review of the appellate court’s ruling, claiming the injunction has been automatically stayed by their legal protestations.
The supreme court, which has yet to state whether it will grant the commissioners’ petition, issued an order at 1:06pm on Monday giving their attorneys until 5:00pm that afternoon to respond to the emergency motion.
Ironically, their lead attorney, Terry Adams, who has become notorious for constantly delaying the appeal and petition by claiming extra time for reasons as extraordinary as a past dental appointment and moving his desk, met the deadline first time with a 14-page document that included an affidavit by county legal boss Bob Boemer and a declaration signed by No 1 county-court judge John Grady, above left.
Also attached was a copy of a request to the commissioners to “approve the establishment of a ‘court administrator’ system for the three Galveston county courts at law” under Texas government cosde section 75.401a.
The request, dated December 16, was signed by Grady and his fellow county-court judges, Barbara Roberts of court No 2 and Jack Ewing of court No 3.
Grady told The Post that it would not be proper for him to comment on the merits of the issue as it had become the subject of legal action. But he did say: “We made the request under Texas government code 75.401a and I cannot understand what all the hubbub is about.”
Cox, who said the county-
court judges first told him about the request at the end of a meeting on Thursday, said: “We’re on the brink of a supreme-court decision about the commissioners’ petition and the commissioners risk being found in contempt if they do anything beforehand.
“What possible good are the county-court judges getting by requesting a new department now? The risk outweighs the reward.”

Defense attorneys on attack after judges say ‘You’re fired’

By Ian White

NINE defense attorneys in danger of being thrown off the Galveston judges’ appointments list must wait to hear their fate until the end of the month – two months after the judges first voted for their removal.
Eight of the lawyers – who are accused of various infringements of court procedure, including turning up late, and, in at least one case, overbilling – are appealing the judges’ September 29 decision to let them go.
Some have already made their case and the judges have set November 30 as a tentative date for the remainder to seek reinstatement to the list, which the courts use to appoint lawyers to defend indigent defendants in criminal cases.
The judges first declared their dissatisfaction with the lawyers’ performance during a public meeting of the county’s criminal courts board at Galveston justice center on September 29, when they conducted their annual review of the performance of the attorneys on their appointments list.
According to a former judge who is representing one of the lawyers, none of them was present at the review and they did not know of their involvement until after the discussion in which they were removed from the list had been livestreamed on the county website.
Susan Criss, who now practices in Galveston, told The Post that the first official notification her client, David Cook, received of the accusations against him came in an October 3 letter from the justice administration department in answer to a request for information about the September review.
It is believed that the other eight attorneys, Kenneth Cager, Kendric Ceaser, Holly Cooper-Roell, Rachel Dragony, Christopher Graham, Nancy Knox-Bierman, Mark McIntyre and David Suhler, also received official notice of their involvement after the September meeting.
It is understood that Knox-Bierman is moving to another area and has no plans to appeal but the others are all said to be furious at the judges’ action.
After at least some of them objected, the judges opted to hold a further meeting of the county’s criminal courts board on October 20, when they went into executive session to reconsider their attorney performance review.
The attorneys were given one week’s written notice of that meeting, which The Post understands was not long enough to deal with all nine appeals, leaving some in abeyance until this month.
Criss confirmed that Cook’s removal hinges on a disagreement with 10th district-court judge Kerry Neves, who during the September review accused her client of severely delaying a 2014 second-degree felony case and charging $44,000 for his work.
The Post has received documents that show that Neves cut the fee to $4,000 but allowed Cook $1,500 for necessary costs and expenses and $3,675 for expert services.
In a letter to the criminal courts board, Criss responded by saying that Cook’s $44,000 fee was not outrageous as the work covered three separate cases, all of which included complex legal issues, involving three jurisdictions and several months’ hard work.
She wrote: “The portrayal of him as being someone who charges unreasonable fees for unnecessary work is false and defamatory.”
As well as disputing the specifics of Cook’s case, Criss, who says she was a mainstay in writing the rules that govern the criminal courts board’s actions in reviewing attorneys’ performance, is claiming the judges were wrong to conduct their review without first attempting a resolution with each attorney and that the livestreaming of their meeting also defamed the lawyers.
As an instance, she noted that, at one point in the review, the livestream video shows Neves saying to the other board members while discussing Cook’s removal: “I pulled him aside three times. I told him this was not working. I asked if his client had got in his head. Did he [the client] have something on him? Did he have pictures of him with a goat?”
Criss, who is arguing that Neves was asking Cook to do less work in his client’s defense, wrote in her letter: “Mr Cook does not deserve to be punished, intimidated, sexually harassed or publicly humiliated.
“He does not deserve to be punished for not making the judge’s job easier or for challenging the judge’s rulings. No attorney doing indigent defense work does.”
The Galveston rate for appointed attorneys in second-degree felony cases is $66 per hour, $10 less than the hourly rate for first-degree felony cases.

By Ian White

THE STATE’S supreme court was still waiting on Friday evening to post receipt of the last briefing document in county judge Mark Henry’s much-delayed case against senior Galveston district judge Lonnie Cox.
Houston attorney Terry Adams had until the court clerk’s office closed at 5:00pm to file a reply brief in his appeal on behalf of Henry and his fellow county commissioners in their argument with Cox about which of them has power over the county’s justice administration department.adams-terry-houston-attorney
The reply brief represents Adams’ right to respond to a brief in which Cox’s attorney, Galveston-based Mark Stevens, rebutted the commissioners’ argument that the court should review a lower appellate court’s ruling upholding a June 2015 decision against them by visiting judge Sharolyn Wood.
A court official told The Post at 5:15pm that no documentation had been posted but said that did not mean Adams, left, had not filed the paperwork and that it was entirely possible the court clerk’s office had yet to post its receipt.
In the case, the commissioners are arguing against Wood’s ruling that Henry should stand trial on contempt charges for failing to abide by orders in which Cox declared that Henry had illegally fired justice administration department director Bonnie Quiroga in July 2014 and that she should be reinstated.
The state’s first court of appeals, which sits in Houston, found that Wood had not erred in her ruling, leading the commissioners to petition the supreme court in February, since when Adams has proved a master of brinkmanship, repeatedly calling for extensions of time to state his case.
In the most recent example, on October 24 he asked for his reply-brief deadline to be extended by eight days from October 27 until Friday on the basis that his computer had died, irretrievably frying his work on the document.
It was his second request for an extended deadline for the reply brief, which was first due to be filed by October 10.

Beleaguered police chief quits

By Ian White

RANDALL Aragon, the former La Marque police chief who quit two years ago to become top cop in Fairbank, Alaska, is out of a job after quitting amid accusations of abuse of his office.
The city issued a news release late on Monday that Aragon had tendered his resignation four days earlier, with his departure effective on Friday, October 30.


He was not on active duty at the time, having been returned to gardening leave on October 25 by incoming mayor Jim Matherly after less than a week back in harness following reinstatement by outgoing mayor John Eberhart.
The reinstatement ended a month or so of paid administrative leave while city officials investigated a former police chief’s accusations that Aragon, left, had touted his services for a $600 contract to conduct a commercial security assessment that his officers could have provided free.
Eberhart called him back on October 19, three days after police sergeant Allen Brandt was shot five times in the city, reasoning that the department needed his leadership in its hour of crisis.
Matherly took the mayoralty from bitter rival Eberhart on October 24 and sent the chief home again one day later, arguing that his reinstatement had come too early because the investigation into his actions had not yet been completed.
Aragon, who wrote a popular column in The Post while at La Marque, threw in the towel in his hope of exoneration two days after that.
By horrible coincidence, his resignation came the day that Brandt, who had been released from hospital several days earlier, returned for scheduled surgery to remove shrapnel from an eye, an operation that led to complications from which he died on Sunday.
The shrapnel had pierced his eye when his body armor deflected one of the bullets with which he was shot. Reports suggest that his other injuries were to his legs.
The Post was still trying to reach Aragon for comment at press time on Friday. He had previously declined to say anything about the allegations against him during the investigation, promising a full statement on the matter at its conclusion. The Post understands that the city is still conducting the investigation despite his departure.

Former school board member convicted of defrauding frail elderly neighbor

By Ian White

CONTROVERSIAL former school trustee Shirley Fanuiel was due to be sentenced on Tuesday in a felony-theft case punishable by a prison sentence of up to 99 years.fanuiel-shirley-2014
Fanuiel, left, who was a trustee at La Marque independent school district for many years, was found guilty on Thursday of stealing real estate and an annuity together worth between $100,000 and $200,000 from near neighbor Wade Watkins, who was in his 80s and was suffering declining mental health.
Prosecuting counsel assistant district attorney Robert Buss told judge John Ellisor during a six-day bench trial in Galveston’s 122nd district court that Fanuiel, 67, had obtained a general power of attorney over Watkins, who was about 83 at the time, on June 22, 2009, and transferred ownership of his annuity to herself the same day.
Several weeks later, she obtained the deed to his home eight blocks from her own home at 1819 Rosalee Street, La Marque. Watkins, believed to have been a lifelong friend of her family, was made a ward of the county’s social services department in 2011 and died in 2013.
A spokesman for the DA’s office said on Monday: “According to the evidence presented, Shirley Fanuiel did nothing that benefited the victim after she obtained his annuity and home. The victim moved into an elderly friend’s home down the street before being taken to a doctor by a different friend during the summer of 2010. The doctor diagnosed the victim with advanced dementia and noted that the victim was totally incapacitated.”
The office’s major fraud section began an investigation into the matter after receiving a citizen’s complaint and the defendant was indicted in her full name of Shirley Ann Fanuiel in March 2014.
According to the DA’s office, the range of punishment for first-degree felony theft begins at five years and also includes probation.
The office did not give Watkins’ address but the central appraisal district shows that Fanuiel owns 2622 Rosalee, in the block where he was said to have lived by prosecutors at the time of her indictment. According to the appraisal district, she owns a further seven properties in the city in addition to her home.
Fanuiel first joined the school board in 1995 and soon made enemies of other members, notably Don Singleton, as well as former College Of The Mainland board chair Bennie Mathews and the chamber of commerce’s late president Jimmy Hayley, for her outspoken views.
She also had a checkered membership history, first failing to complete her re-election application in 2012 and running into another re-election glitch last year. On the first occasion, she was reappointed by the board after no one else stood for her seat. It appears that, in 2015, a procedural misunderstanding caused her absence from another re-election ballot but, in any case, by then the board was months from being
dissolved by the state’s education commissioner.
In her professional life, she was for many years one of three economists in the planning and regulatory department at the Galveston branch of the US Army Corps Of Engineers.
While there, she was the subject of a protracted dispute in which an officer responsible for signing her time sheets refused to do so citing unwillingness to be terminated for corroborating fraudulent documents after noticing that, on many days, Fanuiel spent several hours out of the office while claiming to be present and working.