Henry wants new judge in contempt trial
By Ian White
COUNTY JUDGE Mark Henry moved this week to have the trial judge recused before he faces a contempt-of-court charge on January 11.
Henry, below, wants visiting judge Sharolyn Wood removed from the case after she granted a temporary injunction preventing him and the county from replacing former justice administration department Bonnie Quiroga before the trial.
He made the move after hearing on Tuesday that the state’s first court of appeals has denied his interlocutory petition to overturn the injunction.
And he is also demanding the recusal of presiding judge Olen Underwood, who appointed Wood to hear the case, in which Galveston’s administrative judge Lonnie Cox claims Henry is in contempt of an order he signed in his 56th district court on September 24 last year.
Cox signed the order after taking exception to Henry’s summary firing of Quiroga two months earlier and the county’s attempts to replace her with one of three candidates he deemed unqualified for the job.
The order declared the termination illegal and void, leading to a bitter legal wrangle in the appeals court and then the state’s supreme court, both of which came down on Cox’s side, before Wood heard his contempt claim in June and July.
At th end of that hearing, Wood set trial for next month and issued an interim injunction ordering Henry and the county commissioners’ court to reinstate Quiroga at the salary paid to her at the time of her firing, although she would carry out only her judicial responsibilities, leaving her executive-branch duties to the oversight of the county’s legislative body.
On hearing the order, the county judge returned to the appellate court, which sits in Houston and heard oral argument in the appeal in October.
A three-judge panel dismissed his four objections to the injunction in a 75-page ruling issued on Tuesday, although one member, justice Harvey Brown, added a 35-page opinion in which, although concurring with three of the issues, he disagreed with colleagues Terry Jennings and Laura Higley about Wood’s order to pay Quiroga a specific salary.
Panel chairman Jennings and Higley argued that the commissioners’ court has “discretion to set a salary range for Quiroga’s position” but “the ultimate resolution of the salary dispute is yet to be decided by the district court and is outside the scope of our review, which is limited to the validity of the temporary injunction”.
Brown, however, wrote: “I believe the district court erred in setting a specific salary; instead, it should have instructed the commissioners’ court to set a new – and reasonable – salary for Quiroga’s new position.”
By the time The Post went to press on Wednesday, neither side in the case had issued an official response to the appeals court’s ruling but Cox’s attorney, Galveston lawyer Mark Stevens, said: “We consider Judge Henry’s moves to recuse Judge Wood and Judge Underwood baseless and I will soon file an appropriate response.”