News

Incisive line at root of attorney’s Quiroga case request

By Ian White

A DENTIST’S visit is one reason behind a request for more time to prepare county judge Mark Henry’s appeal against a July ruling in a legal case instituted by district judge Lonnie Cox.
Attorney Terry Adams, who works for Houston law firm Beirne, Maynard & Parsons, filed the request on Wednesday, saying a nine-day extension “is necessary to provide the undersigned appellate counsel with adequate time to prepare a concise, well-reasoned appellant’s brief to assist the court. Additionally, the undersigned had to be out of the office on August 10 for a dental procedure.”
Whether or not that was tongue in cheek, Adams, who seems to be filling in on the case for a colleague who was appointed to it last month, added: “The requested extension of time is not made for delay but only so that justice may be done.”
Adams, an appeals specialist, admitted that that and his dental-treatment line had needled Cox’s attorney, Mark Stevens, to whom he had to give advance notice of his extended-time motion. In his request, he wrote that Stevens “has indicated that appellee [Cox] is opposed
to a motion for extension being granted”.
He was right. On Thursdsy, Stevens entered an objection to Adams’ motion in which he made it clear he was incensed by the call for more time.
Stevens and Cox have been claiming for some time that Henry and the county commissioners are doing everything they can just to stall the case, which began in September when Cox signed an order that the county’s termination of justice administration department director Bonnie Quiroga two months earlier had been illegal.
Stevens reiterated the claim in his 34-page response to Adams’ motion,  telling the appeals court he would “ordinarily not bother the court with objections to a motion for extension” but that it is “not only a transparent attempt at tactical delay but outright financial extortion of one or more [Galveston] trial judges”.
That was a reference to a discussion during a workshop the commissioners held on Wednesday, in which they discussed the possibility of cutting county-court judges’ county-paid stipends to save money towards the cost of their legal fees.
A nine-day extension would return the appeal procedure almost to its original schedule, as Adams’ request is for a date four days before the brief-submission deadline originally set by the state’s first-district court of appeals, which sits in Houston.
As reported exclusively by The Post, that deadline, September 8, was later changed to Wednesday, August 26, but Adams’ motion asked for an extension until September 4.
In the appeal, Henry is seeking to overturn an order entered against him last month, when visiting judge Sharolyn Wood signed an injunction against him in the case and held that he must submit to a contempt-of-court trial in January.
The injunction ordered the county to reinstate Quiroga and barred the commissioners from breaking up the department or replacing her pending the January trial, when Henry will be asked to explain why he has failed to comply with Cox’s September order.
The commissioners believe that Cox’s ruling is itself illegal and it was their refusal to abide by it that led to his June application for the injunction and contempt-of-court trial.
Wood’s granting of the application in July stuck in the throat for the commissioners and they appealed immediately.
The appeals court, which had already twice rejected the commissioners’ attempts to overturn Cox’s declaration, responded by spitting out a mediation order but Stevens filed an objection, claiming the commissioners were merely trying to delay obeying the order for as long as possible.
Swallowing his pride, appellate judge Terry Jennings accepted the objection and dropped the mediation order, striking out September 8 as the deadline for the commissioners’ brief and ruling that they had only until Wednesday to file it.
By the time The Post went to press on Thursday, there was no word of whether the appeals court will grant the extension or give it the brush-off. Stevens will have 10 days from whichever date they decree in which to submit a counter brief.

By Ian White

MAYHEM broke out during a meeting of one of the most influential bodies in Texas local government on Wednesday when the subject of the legal battle between county judge Mark Henry and district judge Lonnie Cox was broached.
The executive director of an umbrella organization for counties representing almost 80 per cent of the state’s population told The Post that its members were “fairly shocked” when he reported to them on the case, in which Henry is accused of contempt
of court.
Donald Lee of the Conference Of Urban Counties said the ensuing uproar had made it difficult to tell who then proposed a motion to back Henry and the county commissioners in their fight.
“Everyone was moving and everyone was seconding the motion,” he said on Thursday. “The vote was unanimous.”
The 40-year-old nonprofit organization’s backing was welcomed by the county, which issued a lengthy statement including a prediction by Tarrant county judge Glen Whitley that victory for Cox in the so-called Quiroga case “would threaten the constitutional duties of elected county officials statewide”.
The county’s chief communications officer, Brittany Rainville, wrote: “A county judge from one of the state’s largest counties stated ‘Maybe we’ll be held in contempt now too’.”
The statement also said: “The CUC applauded Galveston County commissioners’ court’s efforts and warned that the pending case is likely to have statewide impact of profound importance to all Texas counties and their ability ‘to defend the well-defined authority of county commissioners’ courts in budget matters and principles of due process’.”
Rainville quoted Lee saying: “It’s unusual for our organization to issue a resolution like this. I don’t know if we’ve ever done it, but this is an issue of such profound importance we need to be engaged, and other counties need to be engaged, in preserving the integrity of county government.”
Not every one of the Austin-based organization’s 37 member counties was represented at its quarterly lunch meeting but Lee said that is not unusual and that it has no bearing on the right of those present to make and vote on resolutions.
However, by law they cannot spend money helping the county fund the case, although the organization is free to weigh in with an amicus brief to the appeals court that is now considering it.
“We have already done that once and will probably do so again,” Lee told The Post.
The legal battle is known as the Quiroga case because it began when 56th-district-court judge Cox took exception to Henry’s summary firing of county justice administration department director Bonnie Quiroga last year.
It has since become a bitter argument in which the warring factions are accusing each other of interfering in matters in which they have no jurisdiction.
Cox and his fellow judges at the county justice center believe Henry and the commissioners are in breach of the protocol of separation of powers, while the commissioners claim that Cox wants to control the county budget. Naturally, each side denies any such alleged intention.

CUC resolution

Whitley, Glenn Tarrant county judge edited              Glenn Whitley

EXCLUSIVE
by Ian White

A RETIRED contractor and leading local chess player is out to prevent the federal government from removing Alexander Hamilton’s portrait from America’s $10 bill.
George Laiacona, below, who has residences in Galveston and Houston, is outraged that Hamilton could be the revolutionary hero to be dumped from America’s paper money to make way for a woman’s portrait “in the name of political correctness”.
He told The Post on Sunday: “If there has become a need to place a female on one of our bills, let her replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 note.
“He was a southern war hero who served well for our country in his time but he was very much against women’s suffrage, so to replace him with a female would be ironic.”
Laiacona, who founded and is director of Galveston Chess Club, wants people to write to the US treasury to protest at the idea of replacing Hamilton, whom he describes as “the third most important American patriot”.
In his own letter to treasury secretary Jacob Lew, he slams the idea as being that of “some ignorant, non-patriotic fool” and says he “can only assume “that those interested in removing” his portrait from the $10 bill “know very little about” him.
Lew announced plans to redesign the $10 banknote to include a notable woman’s portrait on June 17.
Laiacona’s letter continues: “If it wasn’t for Hamilton writing George Washington’s notes, orders and addresses, the general would have had difficulty in communicating with all of those concerned with the Revolutionary War on the battlefield and in congress.
“Hamilton was Washington’s right-hand man for four years of the war. He only stopped working alongside of the general because he wanted battle action. He proved himself as a war-hero officer in spite of Washington wanting to keep him as his aide-de-camp.”
Laiacona said Hamilton’s contribution to America’s success as a nation went beyond his acts in the War Of Independence.
He said: “If it wasn’t for Hamilton, Washington might have lost his bid for the first presidency to John Adams. Hamilton wrote Washington’s inaugural addresses, his letters to congress and most of his correspondence with the outside world.
“Hamilton’s imaginative mind created the US treasury department, the US Coast Guard and other agencies required to keep tabs on trade between American citizens and foreign countries.
“We need to keep the great American patriot Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill. He rightfully belongs there.”
• Anyone wishing to write to the treasury about the plans to replace Hamilton’s portrait on the $10 bill should address their comments to Jacob Lew, Secretary, Department of the Treasury, 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC 20220.

Laiacona, George edited

By Ian White

APPELLATE judge Terry Jennings has ripped up an appeals-court order telling Galveston County leaders Mark Henry and Lonnie Cox, right, to go to mediation in their battle for control of the county’s justice administration department.
Sitting alone in the state’s first district court of appeals, Jennings was responding to an objection by 56th-district-court judge Cox to the mediation order, which was handed down on July 20, four days before the anniversary of the action that led to the case.
That action was the summary firing by county judge Henry of JAD director Bonnie Quiroga, a decision that has had Henry and his fellow county commissioners locked in legal battle with Cox and the county justice center’s judges ever since.
The appellate court ordered mediation after the commissioners appealed a July 6 injunction preventing them from breaking up the department and keeping Quiroga out of her office.
The injunction had been ordered by visiting judge Sharolyn Wood pending a contempt-of-court trial against Henry set for January 11.
In appealing the injunction, the commissioners held that doing so automatically stayed their need to comply with its conditions and the mediation order represented an attempt by the appeals court to resolve the issue in a less adversarial manner..
As reported exclusively by The Post in its July 29 edition, Cox filed a motion objecting to the mediation order on July 27. In his motion, he claimed that the commissioners’ refusal to obey the injunction was a delaying tactic that represented more than just intransigence and he called on the Houston court to exercise its jurisdiction in the case without delay.
The commissioners did not object to mediation and submitted no response to Cox’s motion. As a result, the appeals court will consider their appeal against Wood’s injunction after both sides have submitted their briefs. As reported – again exclusively – in Sunday’s edition, Jennings last week gave
the commissioners until August 26 to submit their brief and Stevens told The Post on Monday that he will submit his response very swiftly thereafter.

Cox, Lonnie 2014-2               Lonnie Cox

ANOTHER POST EXCLUSIVE

By Ian White

COUNTY JUDGE Mark Henry and the county commissioners have suffered another loss in their legal battle with district-court judge Lonnie Cox over control of the county’s justice administration department.
However, the latest judicial decision against them is unlikely to affect the outcome of the case and is more a matter of procedure than overpowering legal opinion.
An appeals-court judge sitting alone in Houston’s first district court of appeals on Thursday denied the commissioners’ motion to split their current appeal in the case in two.
They wanted the court to separate two parts of their appeal against an injunction preventing them remodeling the department before Henry faces a contempt-of-court trial in January next year.
The contempt charge follows the commissioners’ refusal to bow to an order Cox issued from his 56th-district-court bench in September last year. That order declared Henry’s firing of department director Bonnie Quiroga in July last year null and void and instructed the county not to proceed with hiring a replacement for her.
After the commissioners failed twice in the appeals court and once in the state supreme court to have the order overturned, they sought to resolve the issue in June by giving Cox and his fellow judges their own staff in a much-reduced department while withholding four of its key services from judicial supervision.
They also refused to give Quiroga her job back after Cox had reinstated her at the county justice center in Galveston, leading him to apply for the contempt order, which visiting judge Sharolyn Wood signed at the beginning of last month.
The commissioners appealed for an emergency stay of the decision and for a ruling on jurisdiction in the case. Although the two requests referred to the same order, they asked the appeals court to create a separate docket number for the jurisdictional appeal and it was that request that justice Terry Jennings denied on Thursday.
He refused to abate the date for the commissioners to submit their brief in their emergency-stay appeal until September 8 but granted them an extension from Thursday, their original deadline, until August 26.
Meanwhile, the commissioners are still refusing to pay Quiroga and have locked her out of both the office she previously occupied and the county’s computer and e-mail systems.
But Henry says that does not mean she is being kept from employment within the county system.
“The office that is locked has been assigned to the commissioners’ court and is not for anyone else’s use now,” he told The Post on Friday.
“The commissioners have budgeted and assigned office space and five staff positions to Judge Cox but he is refusing to occupy the space or fill the positions.
“Instead of keeping Miss Quiroga in unpaid limbo, he could employ her as the head of his new department and we would be required to pay her and provide the services necessary for her work.  But, until that happens, we can’t pay her because she is not a county employee.”
Cox said he and his attorney, Mark Stevens, would have been surprised if Jennings had not denied the commissioners’ motion to split the appeal.
“When you appeal, you put everything in and the court considers it all at once,” he said. “That’s standard procedure and it would have been shocking if the court had decided otherwise.”
He said the motion had been a delaying tactic by the commissioners and that Jennings had not fallen for it.
“Mr Stevens and I would love the case to move faster, not slower like the commissioners,” he said. “Unlike them, we’re ready for the appeal now.”
Asked about his role in Quiroga’s employment status, he said: “Under the terms of the injunction that the commissioners are ignoring, I can’t alter the status quo ordered by Judge Wood.
“We will follow the court order in the injunction and Bonnie will be in the office on Monday. We are both confident that we will win our individual cases against the commissioners when they are heard in court.”