Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins had a bailiff remove one of his colleagues from this morning’s meeting of the Commissioners Court after the commissioner refused to wear a mask.
Commissioner J.J. Koch, who later virtually joined the meeting from his office, said Jenkins couldn’t impose a mask mandate in the courtroom. He pointed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order last week that prevents local governments from requiring the public to wear masks.
“You do not have the authority under the governor’s order,” Koch said. “In fact, this morning I went to Starbucks, and I have a mask. If you did the right things and weren’t abusive of your power and very demeaning and unfortunately condescending to your board-mates…”
Jenkins asked Koch if he would either put on a mask or voluntarily leave the courtroom to participate in the meeting from his computer. Koch declined.
“I’m going to ask the bailiff now to clear the courtroom of people who refuse to wear their mask, and I only see one, and that would be Commissioner Koch,” Jenkins said.
Koch left with the bailiff.
Prior to being escorted from the meeting, Koch had asked the county’s attorneys whether Jenkins could legally require masks at the commissioners court following Abbott’s order. The commissioners briefly went into executive session to take whatever advice the attorneys had.
There does appear to be some gray area here. On Friday, a district court judge in Dallas County ordered that masks be required in county courthouses, citing a Texas Supreme Court order that lets judges impose such mandates for the safety of people in courtrooms. Jenkins, the county’s top elected official, is not a powdered-wig-and-black-robe type of judge, but he does preside over a court and courtroom.
“I’m going to require, based on a long conversation with UT Southwestern, that we do wear our masks in this courtroom given this evolving situation with the Delta [variant of the] virus,” Jenkins said earlier in the meeting.
Postscript (Aug. 5 at 12:45 p.m.): Koch is suing Jenkins, asking for “$250,000 or less” and calling for the county judge’s removal from office “based on incompetency and official misconduct.”