By Ian White
THE COUNTY commissioners have a new lawyer, a new appeal and a block on Bonnie Quiroga’s employment in their fight for control of the county justice center’s administration department.
Houston attorney Joe Nixon replaced Ed Friedman on Tuesday and immediately wrote to judge Lonnie Cox’s counsel, Mark Stevens, telling him Quiroga is barred from all county property other than public areas.
Whether Friedman resigned or was fired was not made clear. In his letter, Nixon said simply: “I now represent Mark Henry.” Friedman had not responded to a Post request for explanation by Wednesday evening.
Nixon also told Stevens the recently reinstated justice-administration-department director has no job in the organization and will not be paid for the time she has spent at the justice center since Cox and other judges readmitted her on June 8.
Nixon’s assertions flew in the face of an order by visiting judge Sharolyn Wood, who on June 25 told the commissioners to reinstate Quiroga and backdate her pay – at some $114,500 a year – to the day of her return.
But he contended that Wood’s decree – a temporary restraining order, or TRO, pending trial next January – is unenforceable under both the state’s civil practices and remedies code and its rules of appellate procedure.
The code claim relates to decisions made by Wood during the TRO hearing and the rules claim relates to the commissioners’ appeal against her order, which Friedman announced on the day of the order and filed in the state’s first court of appeals on Monday.
Referring to the appeal in his letter, Nixon told Stevens that the act of filing it automatically suspended the TRO and added: “I realize it is not necessary for you to remind your client that this matter is no longer in either his jurisdiction or the jurisdiction of the trial court, if it ever was.”
That was a reference partly to Cox’s 56th-district-court order of September 24 last year in which he declared county judge Mark Henry had acted illegally when he summarily fired Quiroga last July 24.
With the county commissioners refusing to give the job back to her in full, Cox claimed contempt of court to obtain a TRO from visiting judge David Garner on June 5 and Wood upheld that decision three weeks later.
It is the contempt claim that Henry will have to defend in the resulting trial, which is set to begin on January 11 next year.
After receiving a copy of Nixon’s letter from a source close to the case, The Post asked Stevens on Wednesday if Quiroga was still at the justice center and was told that she was at her desk but had not yet been paid according to Wood’s order.
Stevens said he disagreed with Nixon’s assessment of the rules and would be moving quickly to submit his own motion to the appeals court. He later sent an e-mail message to local journalists saying he expected to file the motion on Thursday.
Read a full update in Sunday’s edition of The Post.
The court, which sits in Houston, has already denied one motion submitted by Friedman, who works for major national law firm Baker & Hostetler’s Houston office. He asked for the TRO to be stayed pending the appeal but the court rejected his application on July 8.