IssuesLocal NewsTaxes & SpendingDallas County Commissioners Table Motion to Spend COVID-19 Donations on Jenkins’ Suit Against Abbott

Democratic County Judge Clay Jenkins sued Governor Greg Abbott last year over the governor’s ban on local mask mandates.
April 11, 2022
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The Dallas County Commissioners Court last week tabled a motion to use donated COVID-19 relief funds to pay legal fees associated with Democratic County Judge Clay Jenkins’ lawsuit against Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order banning local mask mandates.

The vote is the latest episode of an ongoing feud between Jenkins and Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch (R-District 2) over the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including its vaccination strategy.

In August of last year, Jenkins ordered a bailiff to remove Koch from a commissioners court meeting because the commissioner had declined to wear a face covering. Koch sued Jenkins in part on the grounds that Jenkins’ mandate violated Abbott’s executive order precluding local governments from instituting mask mandates. Jenkins responded with a lawsuit of his own against the governor’s order.

A resolution on the commissioners court’s docket last week would have accepted more than $263,000 from the Communities Foundation of Texas to be spent on “legal expenses related to COVID-19 lawsuits.”

The Dallas Morning News reported prior to the commissioners court meeting that these funds would be used to pay for Jenkins’ lawsuit against Abbott.

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The newspaper reported that Jenkins contended the charity approved the use of the money for that purpose and that major contributors were kept in the loop about how the proceeds would be spent.

“When you give to a charity, you give up the right to micromanage how the money could be spent,” Jenkins said, according to The News.

During their regular meeting last Tuesday, commissioners discussed the resolution in executive session and voted 3 to 0 to table the motion after concluding the closed portion of the meeting. Jenkins and Koch were absent from the vote due to their personal involvement, even though the resolution had been originated by Jenkins’ office.

Andrew Sommerman, one of Jenkins’ lawyers, is currently running in a Democratic runoff to challenge Koch in the general election.

“Tomorrow on the [Commissioners] Court agenda is the payment of legal fees associated with the representation of Judge Clay Jenkins when JJ Koch sued him. We have waived our fees. It’s our honor to represent Judge Jenkins,” Sommerman wrote in a social media post on April 4.

“It’s disgraceful that Mr Koch led the charge against science. Judge Jenkins has used reasonable and scientifically sound measures against Covid. JJ Koch chose political theater over science. We have asked that the money that would have been paid to us be used to remedy the harms caused by JJ Koch and the Governor.”

Koch replied by accusing Sommerman and Jenkins of a “vile scheme” to bilk money intended to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

“Judge Jenkins is about to get exposed for major corruption to the benefit of Andrew Sommerman. So at the last minute, Sommerman waives the bill that he gave Jenkins. Why you ask? BECAUSE JUDGE JENKINS IS TRYING TO GET IT PAID FOR BY A CHARITY JENKINS RUNS FOR THE BENEFIT OF FIRST RESPONDERS AND HUNGRY FAMILIES!” Koch wrote emphatically.

“He is trying to steal over $200,000 from first responders and hungry families and yet this guy has the nerve to try to claim he and his criminal client have the moral high ground.”

Lauren Davis, the Republican nominee for county judge, commented on the proposal in a statement to The Texan on Friday.

“Judge Jenkins’ actions are exactly why it is time for him to go. He regularly serves himself over the people of Dallas County,” Davis wrote.

“While our jails remain understaffed and failing inspections for a second year in a row, Jenkins’ focus is on playing politics with money intended for people in real need of help. It’s no wonder why people are moving out of Dallas County to surrounding areas; it’s time for a positive leadership change to reverse this trend and help our county achieve its full potential.”

Koch ran unopposed in the Republican primary for county commissioner. He will compete in the general election against either Sommerman or attorney Michelle Ocker, who finished first in the Democratic primary but fell short of a majority. Sommerman and Ocker are vying in a runoff on May 24.

Neither Jenkins’ office nor his campaign could be reached for comment.

A copy of the resolution that commissioners tabled can be found below.

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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a reporter for The Texan. He has coached high school competitive speech and debate and has also been involved in community theater and politics. A native Texan, Hayden served as a delegate at the Republican Party of Texas Convention in 2016. He is on track to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Liberty University. In his free time, Hayden is known to take walks around the neighborhood while listening to random music on Spotify.