GALVESTON — A district court judge on Thursday postponed for at least a week a hearing on whether he should temporarily suspend Judge Christopher Dupuy in connection with a lawsuit seeking his removal from the bench.
Dupuy, however, remains under suspension by the State Commission of Judicial Conduct on a separate matter related to his indictments, which total nine felony and misdemeanor charges of obstruction or retaliation, abuse of official capacity and official oppression.
Dupuy was elected in a 2010 Republican landslide to Galveston County Court at Law No. 3. His reign has been marked by controversy and accusations, some of which led to criminal charges and the removal lawsuit filed by attorney Greg Hughes on behalf of the state attorney general’s office.
During Thursday’s hearing, Dupuy’s attorneys asked Judge Robert J. Kern to delay the show-cause hearing until he ruled on their motion to dismiss the removal lawsuit.
Dupuy, through attorney Wally Mahoney, responded last month to the civil allegations against him, calling for sanctions against the lawsuit’s petitioner and for those “who have participated in this public, illegal lynching.”
‘Politically charged petition’
Dupuy accused those involved with the lawsuit of filing a politically charged petition that seeks relief that as a matter of law is unavailable. Dupuy also claims the removal lawsuit was akin to whistle-blower retaliation for his complaint that led to a judicial ethics opinion that resulted in the resignation of a Galveston County associate family law judge.
Dupuy argues that the Texas Government Code allows for the removal of county officials, such as the district attorney, county clerk, treasurer or sheriff but not a statutory county court at law judge.
Dupuy’s answer references a 1992 attorney general opinion on whether people appointed to boards and commissions by a commissioners court are subject to removal by the commissioners court.
The opinion lists part of the Texas Constitution, which states county judges, justices of the peace, constables and other county officers may be removed by a district court judge after a jury trial for incompetency, official misconduct, habitual drunkenness or other offenses.
Another attorney general opinion in 1997 cites a different example as to why a county court at law judge is not considered a county official in regard to licensing applications under the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code.
Assistant District Attorney Kent S. Richardson filed a response Thursday, claiming the government code allows for the removal of a statutory county judge in the same manner and for the same reasons as a county judge.
Richardson’s response claims that if the Texas Constitution and the government code’s removal statute didn’t apply to county court judges, then that would defeat the intent of the state Legislature. It would place a court and judge outside the organization of the court system, leaving the court and judge to have no recourse for its rulings and no checks on its actions.
The Texas Constitution also requires the Legislature to provide a means of removal for all officers of the state, Richardson claims.
Richardson’s response references a state appeals court ruling that states legislatively created county courts, as well as constitutionally created county courts, are county courts and the judges are county officers.
‘An absurd result’
If the court finds that Dupuy is neither a county judge nor a county officer, “this would lead to an absurd result and would not be true to the legislative intent,” Richardson states.
Kern intends to rule next week on Dupuy’s dismissal request. If Kern rules against Dupuy, then the parties would return Thursday for the show-cause hearing.
If Kern sides with the state and suspends Dupuy, Mahoney said he would probably appeal the ruling.
Kern also signed a gag order, preventing both sides from discussing the case with the media.
Meanwhile, Dupuy and his attorney are scheduled to appear today in Austin before the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to ask the commission to either lift its suspension or reinstate Dupuy’s pay while on suspension, said Seana Willing, the commission’s executive director.
“They must present evidence that returning him to the bench or reinstating his pay will not harm the public,” Willing said.