One of the first things County Judge Mark Henry did upon taking office was to sign up to earn an extra $14,000 a year by committing to spend at least 40 percent of his time performing judicial functions, that is where he acts as a judge in real lawsuits and prosecutions. He quickly hustled to set himself up to magistrate inmates, preside over juvenile hearings and take criminal pleas in one county court.
He created a veteran’s court and hired himself to be the judge without any consultation with the Galveston County judiciary. And he did all of this without any legal training. Henry is a helicopter pilot by profession.
Henry created a video system so he could magistrate inmates without going to the Galveston County Jail. Justice Administrator Bonnie Quiroga quickly discovered a very big problem with the video system. Private conversations between inmates and attorneys were also being recorded and able to be revealed to law enforcement and the prosecution. That situation violated the law and put the county at great legal risk. Had that been allowed to continue the county would have been liable for staggering financial costs.
Ms. Quiroga brought the problem to Henry’s attention. The helicopter pilot did not share her concern. The next morning on July 24, 2014, he fired her without consulting the judges she worked for and without prior approval from the county Commissioner’s Court.
District Court Judge and Chief Administrative Judge Lonnie Cox issued an order prohibiting Henry from firing her since she worked for the real judges and not Henry. Henry hired, at taxpayer expense, a law firm to challenge Judge Cox’s order.
After almost a year of litigation, visiting Judge Sharolyn Woods was assigned to hear testimony about who Quiroga worked for and who had the authority to hire and fire her.
For several days, Judge Woods heard testimony on this topic. She also heard about Henry having locks changed to keep the judiciary, their staff and the Galveston County Sheriff out of courtroom and court offices. While locking out staff such as Quiroga and others is annoying and childish, locking out the law enforcement officers responsible for courthouse safety was dangerous and foolhardy.
Then she issued a scathing opinion and order that Henry intentionally interfered with the independence of the Galveston County judiciary and the ability of the Galveston County judiciary to perform its judicial functions. She forbade him from firing judicial staff.
Henry made it clear he had no intention of complying with her order. After all she is just another judge.
Henry’s lawyers, in a brief to the First Court of Appeals complaining about the specter of contempt looming large over him, wrote that, “It is axiomatic…that Judge Henry alone cannot act for Galveston County.”
I think that is what the judges of Galveston County, visiting Judge Sharolyn Woods and the judges of the First Court of Appeals have been trying to tell the helicopter pilot.