News

By Ian White

CIVIL SERVANTS in the county’s tax offices are about to work longer hours and take shorter lunch breaks in an effort to help residents meet the 2016 property-tax deadline on January 31.
But property owners who leave payment until the last minute could still miss out – because more than 20,000 motorists are expected to renew their vehicle registrations in the meantime!
With only days remaining for timely payment of last year’s property-tax bill, tax assessor Cheryl Johnson said the tax office “is making it as easy as possible” for property owners to avoid penalties for late payment.
She said the office’s Galveston and League City branches will both open for extended hours on January 31 and that extra staff will be helping out in all branches, with shortened lunches “to keep the counters full throughout the last week of January”.  
Johnson also released a set of “fast facts” about payment options that made it clear there is no provision for disaster installments this year.
As well as being the last day for full payment, January 31, on Tuesday next week, is also the last day for seniors, disabled people and disabled armed-service veterans or their surviving spouses to pay their first quarterly installment.
The tax office’s League City and Galveston branches will open from 7:30am to 5:30pm on January 31, with all offices including Santa Fe and Texas City open daily 8:00am to 5:00pm in the meantime and its Friendswood satellite for the same hours on Thursday and Friday.
Anyone needing directions to any of the locations can call 1-877-766-2284.
Property owners can pay in person by cash, check and credit or debit card but not by credit-card check.
They can also drop their payment in boxes outside the branch offices before 8:00am on February 1 or send payment by mail bearing a non-meter USPS postmark no later than January 31.
Johnson said postal payers should remember that the county’s mail is routed through north Houston, adding a day to the postmarking process.
Online payment at galcotax.com requires a $1 fee for an electronic check or a 2.5 per cent bank fee for using a credit card.
Telephone payments can be made with credit or debit card at 1-866-865-1433 for instructions in English and 1-866-865-1435 for a Spanish-language alternative.

Court asked to rule now on election maps dispute

By Ian White

PLAINTIFFS challenging the Texas congressional election maps adopted in 2011 filed a joint motion on Friday to compel a federal district court to issue an urgent decision on their claims that the redistricted maps are discriminatory and violate the federal Voting Rights act and the US constitution.
If the three-judge San Antonio court does not issue its final decision by January 17, the motion said the plaintiffs will “seek relief in an appellate court” to prevent what they claim are the Republican-supported maps’ gerrymandering effects.Angle, Matt 2015
The election boundaries in current use are based on interim plans ordered by the San Antonio court in 2012 but the plaintiffs say the plans retain many of the features they claim discriminate against Hispanic and African-American voters, especially those in Corpus Christi, San Antonio, the border region, Travis County and Dallas-Fort Worth.
According to Democrat activist Matt Angle, the motion argues that continued delay not only allows continuing harm to minority voters but could prevent resolution of the case before a new census is taken.
He said: “A decision from the court is long overdue. It has been nearly six years since the complaints were initially filed and more than two years since the trial on the merits of the case concluded.”
Quesada
Angle, above, is the director of Democrat-leaning political action committee Lone Star Project, which has been engaged in the Texas redistricting fight from its outset, supporting the overall efforts of the plaintiffs in the case and providing technical and financial support to one group, known as the Quesada plaintiffs.
He said: “Texas Republicans adopted maps that are off the charts in terms of racial and partisan gerrymandering. They grossly and intentionally discriminate against Hispanic and African-American Texans, which harms every Texas citizen.
“The court has a hard and complicated job sorting out how extensively Texas Republicans have violated the law but a decision is needed now so that the work to repair the damage being done to all Texas voters can begin.”

By Ian White

THE STATE’S supreme court on Tuesday denied judge Lonnie Cox’s emergency motion to prevent the county commissioners creating a justice-administration job for the county’s three junior courts.
And, as Cox feared, the commissioners went ahead that afternoon and created a position with a salary range of $60,038 to $66,269, less than half the $113,000 or so earned by Bonnie Quiroga before county judge Mark Henry summarily fired her as director of the administration department in July 2014.
Cox had submitted the emergency motion on Monday after learning that the three county-court judges at Galveston’s justice center had requested the “establishment of a justice administration system” to serve their courts.
He was furious that the request could undermine the legal battle in which the county’s executive and judicial branches have been vying for officially recognized control of the justice administration department following Quiroga’s termination.
On Wednesday, he seemed sanguine about the high court’s decision, telling The Post: “What constitutes an emergency in Galveston is not necessarily an emergency in Austin. No blood was shed and no lives lost and the supreme court’s denial of our motion noted that the case is still before the justices.”

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.
Affidavit
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.
Reconsider
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?”
Intimidated
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.