News

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.”

By Ian White

DISGRACED former Galveston judge Christopher Dupuy has had his bail reduced by $200,000 – but that still leaves him with $400,000 to cover in order to gain his pre-trial freedom.
He was also left with his appointed counsel, Fox Curl, despite requesting a change of representative to attorney Kristi Walsdorf at the hearing last Thursday.
Dupuy, who presided over county court 3 at the justice center in Galveston from January 2011 until being suspended for abuse of his office in 2013, applied for the bond reduction after being taken into custody early last month on two charges of
online impersonation.
It is alleged that he used an alias to pay for posts on a website advertising sexual services in the names of two unwitting former girlfriends.
During the hearing, Curl argued for Dupuy’s original $600,000 bond to be reduced to $20,000, claiming that his client had done nothing more than the equivalent of scribbling a woman’s phone number on a public-bathroom wall.
But 405th-district-court judge Michelle Slaughter was unconvinced and tacked almost 20 conditions to her bond-reduction order.
As The Post went to press on Monday, there was no news of whether Dupuy, right, had managed to post the reduced bond and gain his pre-trial freedom.

Dupuy, Christopher, jail shot 2015           Christopher Dupuy

By Ian white

JUDGE Lonnie Cox formally objected on Monday to court-ordered mediation in his case against county judge Mark Henry for firing county justice administration department director Bonnie Quiroga one year ago.
Cox filed his objection in the state’s first court of appeals, which one week earlier told the warring parties to go to mediation after receiving an appeal from Henry and the county commissioners against an injunction imposed upon them at the beginning of the month.
The injunction, ordered by visiting judge Sharolyn Wood while sitting in Cox’s own 56th district court in Galveston, was written to prevent the county breaking up the department and keeping Quiroga out of her office.
It ordered the county to fully reinstate her and pay her at her full salary rate from June 8, when Cox, other judges and county sheriff Henry Trochesset arranged her return after a layoff of almost 11 months.
The county refuses to obey the order, claiming that its appeal nullifies it, and has not only withheld Quiroga’s pay but also last week locked her out of the organization’s computer system.
In their objection to mediation, Cox and his attorney, Mark Stevens, claim that those and other actions represent more than just intransigence and that the court should exercise its jurisdiction in the case without delay.
The county, too, is crying foul in the case and The Post will provide a more fully detailed account of the most recent trading of blows in Sunday’s edition.

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.”