Galveston County Judge Mark Henry sure knows how to spice up dull legal dispute over the hiring and firing of court staff. Mix in some backroom sniping, a bit of rumor-mongering, and just a hint of public sex and you've got the awkward mess that's now before the state's First Court of Appeals.
At issue in the case that's pitted Henry and Galveston County commissioners against local district court judges is Henry's July firing of Bonita "Bonnie" Quiroga as director of the county's Justice Administration Department, a title she'd held for more than a decade. The local judges, already peeved with commissioners for supposedly meddling with their budget, were furious about the firing. In an order blocking Quiroga's termination in September, Administrative Judge Lonnie Cox wrote, "The authority to appoint and terminate court personnel lies with the courts, not the county judge nor the commissioners court."
So the county appealed to the First Court last month, asking that Cox's order barring commissioners from firing or replacing Quiroga be overturned. And late last month Henry filed an affidavit in the case that includes a number of email exchanges that, as far as Henry's concerned, prove Quiroga reported to commissioners court and not local judges. (H/T to local attorney Greg Enos, who first noted the emails in his awesomely-titled newsletter "The Mongoose" earlier this month.) "The tone and content of Ms. Quiroga's communications to me about the judges are wholly inconsistent with a supervisory relationship between them," Henry wrote in the affidavit.
That's quite an understatement. Notwithstanding that Quiroga regularly wrote to Henry with all the tact and professionalism of a tween slumber party gossip circle, the emails Henry filed in court show that, at the very least, Quiroga had quite the strained, unhealthy relationship with the very judges who are now fighting to save her job.
In a July 11, 2014 email, Quiroga tells Henry that "someone needs to file an anonymous complaint" against 212th District Court Judge Bret Griffin because, she says, he regularly hears cases involving Tony Buzbee despite Griffin's wife co-owning a Friendswood coffee shop with the high-profile Gov. Perry-representing trial attorney (Quiroga's email is basically the cliff-notes version of this Texans for Lawsuit Reform presser decrying Buzbee's seemingly close relationship with Griffin).
So maybe Quiroga's just a concerned citizen, right? Well, in a November 2011 email, Quiroga decided to bend Henry's ear about 306th District Court Judge Jan Yarbrough sneaking naps on her couch:
"When you have to move your couch because people can see you laying on the couch...that's a problem. ...Ain't that some shit! I am so tired of these lazy people sucking off the taxpayer! I guess I am old school, where being a public servant was something you did proudly."
Later that month, Quiroga again turned to Henry to vent about Yarbrough, writing, "...a jury would convict me if I kill Jan this week?"
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
The pièce de résistance, however, comes in another November 2011 email. Here's how Henry put it in his affidavit filed with the First Court of Appeals:
"In a November 14, 2011 email, Ms. Quiroga criticizes the decision of one of the State District Judges to appoint Associate Judge Suzanne Schwab Radcliffe, saying of Radcliffe: 'What I didn't say at the interviews is that I don't recommend appointing anyone who was having sex on a picnic table at one of the County Christmas parties.' ...In an earlier July 24, 2011 email, Ms. Quiroga described Radcliffe as 'a selfish bit ... [bitch].'"
We asked Radcliffe, who was an associate family court judge until last year, about that particular allegation. On Friday afternoon she told us via email, "I was never interviewed to be the AJ and of course never had sex in a park on a bench! I have no idea who she is talking about? I was appointed in 1997 and stayed the AJ until 2012 w/ no interview process. I know when Yarbrough took the Bench, they interviewed for the other AJ position." We got another email from Radcliffe at 1:47 a.m. on Saturday: "I never interviewed for my position as an associate judge and I certainly never had sex in a park IF YOU REPRINT THAT THAT LIE I HAVE. TALJED TO AN ATTORNEY."
We suspect after reading the emails filed in court, Galveston County's judges aren't exactly fighting to save Quiroga's job anymore, but rather fighting for the authority to fire her themselves.