County Commissioners Approve Judges’ Staff Request

mainIn a rare four-hour special Saturday meeting of Galveston County Commissioners Court, county commissioners approved an application for appointment of staff submitted to them by Galveston County’s district and county court judges. The creation of five new administrative staff positions reporting directly to the county’s administrative district judge is intended to bring a 10-month dispute over the county’s justice administration department to an end.

The vote was originally set for this past Tuesday, June 9 before Judge Lonnie Cox had a restraining order issued barring county commissioners from voting that day on the very same staff application he had submitted to commissioners court three weeks earlier. No new restraining order was issued against commissioners on Saturday, so the vote went forward.

Commissioner Ryan Dennard said, “Today, commissioners court took action on finally bringing this issue to a close. We’ve been trying to give the judges their own staff for months. We were finally allowed an opportunity to vote on that issue, and did what we publicly promised –we approved the judges’ application and gave them a lot of additional staff.”

“We’ve done what the judges requested,” said Commissioner Ken Clark. “They’ve been complaining for months that commissioners shouldn’t supervise employees performing administrative support functions for the courts. We agree. Now we’ve given them their own staff, and they can hire whoever they want and direct them however they want. It’s time for this to be over.”

Still unresolved is the restraining order obtained by Judge Cox that orders commissioners court to not take action on certain commissioners court statutory functions. A hearing on those matters is scheduled for Friday, June 19.

The Texas Supreme Court also weighed in, ordering Cox to submit a briefing explaining his actions by Wednesday, June 17.

Commissioners expressed concern that the restraining order obtained by Cox originally barred them from filing an ethics complaint against him or hiring legal counsel to defend against his actions.

Commissioners also expressed concern that the restraining order obtained by Cox presumed to put the former director of justice administration, whose firing triggered the dispute, back in charge of the county’s fines and fees collection program. “Collections is a commissioners court function by statute,” said Clark. “Even Judge Cox admitted that both in emails and in public workshops.” Commissioners pointed to the over $50 million in outstanding court costs, fees and fines that never were collected under the former director’s decade-long leadership over the program.

“Hopefully those issues will be resolved in the coming days,” said Dennard. “For now, we’re just relieved to get past this particular issue so the judges can hire whoever they want and leave us out of that.”

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