Galveston County Commissioners Court on Monday declined County Judge Mark Henry’s request to demand Judge Lonnie Cox pay more than $1.2 million in Henry’s attorney fees stemming from a lawsuit Cox filed against Henry.
In a 2-3 vote, the court rejected a resolution demanding Cox “reimburse the citizens of Galveston County for attorney fees.” County taxpayers have spent more than $1.2 million to pay Houston attorneys representing Henry against a lawsuit originating from the challenge of the court’s firing of a former justice administrator.
Commissioners Ken Clark and Henry voted for the resolution. Commissioners Joe Giusti, Darrell Apffel and Stephen Holmes voted against the resolution.
Cox sued Henry in 2014, arguing he had overstepped his authority and was undermining the independence of the county’s judicial branch by firing Justice Administrator Bonnie Quiroga because many of her duties served the trial judges. Henry had argued he had the right to fire her because the position is a county employee position.
Over the course of the legal battle, the county’s attorney fees reached more than $1.2 million, according to earlier reports from the county auditor’s office. Cox paid his own legal fees, and estimated in May the total to be about $30,000.
Henry and Cox are now political opponents in the race for the county judge seat.
Apffel pulled the item from the consent agenda to vote against it. Henry shot back that Apffel had supported an agenda item in January calling for the county to reimburse Cox’s legal fees.
“You placed an item on the agenda for Jan. 31 to negotiate a settlement of this case and in that settlement you wanted the county to reimburse his attorney fees,” Henry said to Apffel.
“Interestingly, his attorney fees were like $23,000 and yours were like $1.3 million, but I wasn’t going to go there,” Apffel said.
“The theory is that if we’re paying his attorney fees, he can pay our attorney fees, right?” Henry said.
As of January, the court of appeals had sided with Cox, then the county appealed the decision to the supreme court, Apffel said.
“I wasn’t going to go there, I’m just not sure what a resolution does other than political gain,” Apffel said.
“It asks the citizens to be reimbursed for the money he wasted, that’s what it does,” Henry said.
Cox, judge for the 56th District Court, said Henry was using the commissioners court for politics.
“It’s political pandering at the highest level,” Cox said. “He’s using county taxpayers’ money and time to play politics.
“Everybody knows that this is beating a dead horse. There’s no legal substance to me paying his fees, there’s no practical substance for me paying his fees.”