GALVESTON COUNTY, TX – The Texas Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion Friday siding with Galveston County Judge Mark Henry in a long-running legal battle
with 56th District Court Judge Lonnie Cox.
The original lawsuit, filed by Judge Cox, challenged Judge Henry over a staffing and salary dispute, costing taxpayers over a million dollars in legal costs.
The unanimous opinion states Cox “encroached on the county's legislative branch, the Commissioners Court, which was performing a constitutionally and statutorily authorized function.”
In July 2015, a visiting district court judge granted a temporary injunction reinstating a county employee and overriding the salary set by commissioners court in a new position under the judiciary. The First Court of Appeals upheld that decision in December 2015.
However, the Texas Supreme Court unanimously held that the trial court’s order in favor of Judge Cox was a clear abuse of discretion and reversed the appeal court’s decision.
As stated in the opinion, “the trial court lacked the authority-constitutional, statutory, inherent, or otherwise-to require County Judge Henry to reinstate a county judicial employee at a specific salary.”
The case is significant because of its implications for the entire state in terms of powers between the legislative and judicial branches. Over 40 counties in Texas including Harris County, Bexar County, Travis County, Collin County, and Dallas County as well the Texas Association of Counties and the Texas Conference of Urban Counties all filed amicus briefs in support of Judge Henry and the Galveston County Commissioners Court.
“The rule of law has prevailed,” Henry said. “We’re relieved the Supreme Court recognizes that a district court judge does not get to legislate from the bench and replace their discretion for that of the legislative body of government. The unfortunate part is that Cox’s actions have cost the taxpayers of Galveston County over $1 million to push back on his encroachment of county government.”