Lawsuit filed by district judge costs county taxpayers over $150,000
A lawsuit filed by State District Judge Lonnie Cox has caused Galveston County to incur over $150,000 in defense costs so far.
According to several commissioners, Cox has objected to the Court of Appeals’ order to mediate the case while it’s pending, even as expenses mount.
“I thought a judge would respect the process, and it’s disappointing Judge Cox is choosing to ignore the Court of Appeals’ order,” Galveston County Pct. 4 Commissioner Ken Clark said. “It’s certainly disrespectful to taxpayers who are footing the bill to defend against Judge Cox’s lawsuit.”
The lawsuit began when Cox sued County Judge Mark Henry to force reinstatement of former county department head Bonita “Bonnie” Quiroga.
In an effort to resolve the dispute in June, Commissioners Court created several new staff positions reporting directly to Cox. Commissioners urged Cox to end the dispute by hiring Quiroga or any other persons he selected into those positions, but Cox has so far refused to fill any of the new positions.
According to Commissioner Clark, Cox has expanded his list of demands, insisting on control over salaries, county facilities, computer equipment and software. Clark pointed to a written settlement demand commissioners received from Cox in June, in which Cox proposed he be given control over staff salaries not subject to any “pay increase limitation,” as well as “office space,” “computer networks, computer programs, equipment and office furniture.” Several computer networks and software programs used in the justice system cost millions of dollars.
Clark said Cox’s demand for control over salaries and facilities echoes his effort this Spring to change state law to transfer control over many budget matters to the judiciary. S.B. 1913, filed on behalf of Cox and other Galveston County judges, in its original form would have given judges state-wide authority over “compensation, facilities, and equipment” budgeted for justice system personnel.
While S.B. 1913 did pass, it was amended to leave such financial decisions with commissioners courts, the legislative body of Texas counties.
“Cox was upset the Legislature wouldn’t give him control over the county budget,” Commissioner Clark said. “But since he couldn’t get the Legislature to go along, now he is trying to get the courts to rewrite state law the way he wants it.”