A TV news report revealing the existence of a 2017 campaign finance complaint against Galveston County Judge Mark Henry led Tuesday to a flurry of dirty-tricks accusations between Henry and his opponent in the March GOP primary, District Court Judge Lonnie Cox.
The report aired on FOX 26 news Monday night. Henry said Tuesday he’d filed a criminal complaint against Cox, alleging the judge had used his position to access and leak confidential records that were part of a divorce proceeding initiated by Henry’s wife and sealed by court order.
Cox denied that accusation.
Henry also claimed the Texas Attorney General’s Office had appointed a special prosecutor to investigate an earlier complaint against Cox about the use of campaign funds in the long-running lawsuit between Cox and the county. Cox said he knows of no such investigation.
The various agencies that would be responsible for investigating the claims declined Tuesday to confirm whether the various complaints or investigations exist.
Henry confirmed that his wife had filed a complaint against him with the Texas Ethics Commission in February 2017. He declined to share a copy of the complaint, and said it had been resolved in June or July without any penalties against him.
“They dismissed it,” Henry said. “They asked us for documents. We turned over everything. They dismissed it.”
The complaint was about a transfer of $62,000 that Henry made from a campaign account to his business, according to the TV report. There was nothing untoward about the transfer, Henry said. He had been reimbursing himself for a personal loan made to the campaign, he said.
“I don’t understand how it’s a story,” he said. “I loaned to my campaign and I paid it back. Not even all of it. I only paid part of it back.”
Henry and his wife, Amy Henry, are still married. Civil court records show two different divorce cases between the couple, both in 2017. Henry said Tuesday he and his wife were reconciling.
A spokesman for the Texas Ethics Commission said Tuesday he was barred by state law from confirming whether a complaint had previously been filed against Henry. The commission confirms complaints only if a person has been found to have broken election laws and ordered to make some sort of restitution, he said.
No such orders have been issued against Henry, according to records posted on the commission’s website.
Henry said he believes Cox used his position as a district court judge to access sealed records, copy them and leak them to allies and the media.
Henry said he had no direct evidence that Cox had accessed the records, however.
“I have nothing except that he had motive and access, and nobody else has either,” he said.
The ethics complaint was among other divorce-related documents that had been sealed by the judge hearing the case, Henry said.
Henry said he filed a criminal complaint against Cox on Jan. 18, when he first learned of people sharing information from his divorce case.
Cox denied he had anything to do with the apparent leak.
“I don’t have the authority to open up the court record from another court,” Cox said. “It’s just not true. I don’t have it. I can’t get it, so I can’t give it.”
Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady would not comment Tuesday on claims made about documents filed with his office.
“We aren’t confirming or denying anything has been filed,” Roady said.
The county late Tuesday responded to an open records request regarding Henry’s complaint with a copy of an email Henry sent to Roady on Jan. 18.
In the email, Henry told Roady he had been contacted by a reporter from The Texas Monitor, an online news outlet, about the ethics complaint and material from the divorce proceeding.
“That file has not been unsealed and this was the only time it was put into the record,” Henry wrote.
He asked Roady to investigate the leak.
Cox said he had never spoken to anyone from The Texas Monitor. The Texas Monitor has not published any articles about either of the men, according to a review of its website.
Henry also said he had consulted with a civil attorney about the issue.
Henry meanwhile claimed Cox was the subject of an investigation by the Texas Attorney General’s Office over a complaint made last month by Greg Enos, a Friendswood attorney who moonlights as a judicial watchdog.
Enos, in a lengthy post in his newsletter The Mongoose, accused Cox of violating state law by using campaign funds to pay an attorney to represent him in a lawsuit against Henry and the commissioners court.
Cox has denied any wrongdoing.
Roady said the his office had referred Enos’ complaint to the attorney general’s office.
Henry claimed an assistant attorney general had been assigned to investigate the complaint, and named an attorney he claims is involved in the investigation.
Both that attorney and a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office declined Tuesday to confirm whether any investigation existed.
“Unfortunately, we have to follow policy and I cannot confirm or deny any investigation by the OAG at this time,” spokeswoman Kayleigh Lovvorn said.
Cox said he was unaware of any investigation of him by the attorney general’s office, adding that he had called the agency to ask whether he was being investigated.
“The AG’s office told me that they would never confirm or deny an investigation,” Cox said.
Early voting for the primary race between Cox and Henry begins Feb. 20. Election Day is on March 6. The winner of the race will be the presumptive judge-elect, as no Democrat filed to run for the position this year.