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Galveston County
Supreme Court of Texas
by Garrett Bryce
Friday, May 19, 2017

The Texas Supreme Court today issued an opinion in the matter of Galveston County Judge Mark Henry vs. 56th District Court Judge of Galveston County Lonnie Cox.

The case involved what the opinion called a “long-running dispute” in who has the authority to set the compensation of a county judicial employee: the Galveston County Commissioners Court or Galveston County district judges. At the center of the case was pay for Bonita Quiroga, who was hired in 2000 as director of justice administration, and whose employment was later terminated by Henry, which was ratified by the Galveston County Commissioners Court.

Following an order issued by Cox, Quiroga was to be re-hired under the title of director of court administration, which was to be supervised by the administrative judges. Quiroga was re-hired with the position of court manager, at a lower salary than suggested by the district judges.

Cox then filed a suit against Henry individually, arguing that the salary range for the new position was unreasonable, calling for Quiroga to be hired with the title of director o justice administration and to pay her a salary of $113,000 for the new position with decreased responsibilities.

A trial court upheld Cox's injunction, which Henry challenged.

Henry argued that the order should have been directed to the Commissioners Court, not just himself; that the trial court exceeded its authority when it directed Quiroga be reinstated at her former salary of $113,000; and that the temporary injunction failed to appropriately maintain the “status quo” pending trial.

“We agree with Judge Henry on the first two issues, and therefore do not reach the third issue,” stated the Texas Supreme Court opinion. Opinion

The opinion stated that county commissioners were “indispensable parties” to the decision and were inseparable from Henry, and Cox's “failure to name them deprived the trial court of the authority to bind them.”

The opinion also stated that the judiciary's constitutionally conferred supervision over a commissioners court is “not boundless.”

“When excerscising what the Constitution calls 'general supervisory control,' a court not usurp legislative authority by substituting its policy judgment for that of the commissioners court acting as a legislative body,” the opinion stated.

The Texas Supreme Court found that judges could require the commissioners court to examine salary ranges it found unreasonable, but not prescribe specific compensation.

“That is, if they believe the range set by the commissioners court is unwarranted – either too extravagant or too miserly – they can tell the commissioners court to reset it,” the opinion states. “And perhaps re-reset it. Nothing more.”

The opinion ended by stating that the court trusts that the parties involved would reach a collaborative agreement “sooner rather than later.” The court reversed the court of appeals' judgment and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.

“The rule of law has prevailed,” Henry said in a news release regarding the ruling. “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." News Release




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