Did County Court Judge Christopher Dupuy fire his court coordinator just because she was nice to an attorney who has openly questioned the judge’s actions in the courtroom?
His former court coordinator says that’s exactly why she was fired by the embattled judge on Thursday.
The termination came shortly after Monica Gracia, who until Thursday was Dupuy’s court coordinator since he took office in 2011, was taken to task by the judge via text message after she extended an apology for keeping attorney Lori Laird waiting while she was taking a phone call in the judge’s office last week.
Laird, who last month was in the middle of a bizarre contempt of court hearing, has been openly critical of Dupuy and his actions after she sought to have the judge recuse himself from a divorce case she was part of.
Dupuy accused Laird of filing an unprofessional pleading that tended to disrespect authority and impede, embarrass or obstruct the court and its personnel and found her to be in contempt. He recommended that an administrative court judge sentence her to 110 days in jail and fine her $250 for each of apparently 14 counts of contempt according to his order, which is being appealed.
In a text message exchange between Gracia and Dupuy obtained by The Daily News, the former court coordinator informed the judge that Judge Olen Underwood, the presiding judge of the Second Administrative Judicial Region of Texas, had sent instructions to Dupuy “if there is a recusal order filed, whether voluntary or involuntary, you may not hear any hearings having to do with that case,” Gracia wrote.
Dupuy replied, “He can notify the (attorneys) directly,” then wrote, “Also, there’s nothing (County Court No. 3) needs to apologize to Laird about.”
Gracia responded with “?,” to which Dupuy replied, “Heard you today apologize to Laird.”
The two exchanged more texts in which Gracia said the judge tried to get her to resign several times because he questioned her loyalty.
“He had accused me of not being loyal because of friendships I had with attorneys he has problems with,” said Gracia, who now works for the county’s justice administration department.
That exchange preceded the process in which Dupuy fired Gracia, who has worked for the county for 16 years. It also sent the courthouse abuzz and is the latest episode in the judge’s two-year tenure on the bench.
Gracia is in the process of filing a human resources complaint against Dupuy.
Dupuy, who calls accusations against him politically motivated and has threatened to sue The Daily News, did not respond to questions for this story.
It’s the latest in what court house observers call “bizarro” behavior by Dupuy, who was elected as part of the Republican landslide in 2010.
Some attorneys led by Greg Enos are building a case to try and have Dupuy forced from the bench. Thus far, despite a lot of bluster, no filings have been made.
“We have two issues,” Enos said. “(First,) the very complex task of drafting this petition because of the many issues we have to describe, and because Dupuy keeps doing new things to add to your petition; and (second,) getting the petition filed by the right official.
“We interpret the law to require our (district attorney) to file the suit. A 2008 case says the (Texas) attorney general cannot file this sort of civil removal suit but can take over for a DA who files the suit and then recuses himself. We truly hope to have a finished product to give (District Attorney Jack) Roady within two weeks.
“However, when (or) if he files will be up to him.”
Roady’s office recently turned over all complaints against Dupuy to the Texas attorney general, recusing the district attorney from the complaints that keep piling up.
Those looking for Dupuy’s fellow judges to take action are likely to be disappointed.
The Daily News spoke with most of the county’s district court and judges, who would not publicly comment, citing an unwritten rule of judicial ethics that judges do not speak ill of other judges.
Privately, however, all expressed concern about Dupuy’s actions and were hoping that either Underwood or Enos’ filing would eventually get Dupuy off the bench.
Two of the judges — both Republicans — called Dupuy “an embarrassment.” Other Republicans refer to Dupuy as “Judge Dopey” and call him “a goofball.”
One thing is for sure, Dupuy, who was able to fly under the radar during the 2010 election season, thanks to the focus on bigger races and the GOP straight-ticket voting effort, will find he has little support during the 2014 election cycle.
Attorney Jack Ewing has declared he’ll run for the Republican primary for the office, and others are considering a run.
“No one likes scandals, and it is unfortunate for Judge Dupuy that he has been embroiled in so many issues,” County Republican Party Chairwoman Barbara Meeks said. “The Galveston County Republican Party is not actively attempting to remove Christopher Dupuy from the bench. He was elected by the voters, whether they did so knowingly or not, and it is up to the voters to remove him. Elections are the checks and balances and the voters will have the final say.”
County Commissioner Ryan Dennard said there may be little the GOP leadership could do to convince Dupuy to step aside.
“As a party, we have had very little contact with Judge Dupuy,” Dennard said. “He has not been active in the party, so there isn’t really anyone who would even have influence on him to do what could be considered the right thing.”
Dennard agreed with Meeks that the political process would work its way out.
“I think what you will find is that no one will stand with Dupuy,” Dennard said. “He’ll be cut off and won’t have any support.”
In past interviews with The Daily News, Dupuy insisted he would not step down and said he was confident voters would support him in any election.