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Dallas County to pay mask lawsuit legal fees out of general fund

Bret Jaspers
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins sued Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in a dispute over mask requirements intended to reduce the spread of COVID. Jenkins sued Abbott after the governor declared counties couldn’t require masks.

Three Dallas County commissioners voted to pay for legal services in County Judge Clay Jenkins’ ongoing mask mandate lawsuit against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Jenkins sued Abbott after the governor declared counties couldn’t require masks.

The lead attorney on the case is representing Jenkins for free, but three commissioners approved paying $250,000 to the law firm of Alexander Dubose and Jefferson for other legal expenses.

When they approved the funding at a Tuesday meeting, county commissioners said they want to be consulted next time.

“The decision to hire counsel is not one for him to make and to make alone,” Commissioner John Wiley Price said. “In the future, he must consult with his colleagues, keep us informed about the nature of such lawsuit if we’re going to be asked to approve legal fees with taxpayer dollars.”

Price noted that the commissioners court had voted to authorize Jenkins to take actions to protect public health.

He was joined in approving the money by Commissioners Theresa Daniel and Elba Garcia. Jenkins and Commissioner J.J. Koch had to recuse and didn’t vote.

Daniel said it was the “responsibility of any member of this court to include the rest of the court” if they took action on behalf of the group. Commissioners have voted in the past to continue Jenkins’ declaration of a local disaster; Jenkins issued a mask mandate and sued the governor in his role as emergency manager.

The case is pending in the Texas Supreme Court. It’s a dispute over whether the state can curtail the power of a local emergency manager.

Last summer, as the Delta variant of COVID-19 led to a rise in cases and hospitalizations, Jenkins ordered workers and customers to mask up indoors. It was in defiance of an earlier order from Abbott, which said “no person may be required by any jurisdiction to wear or to mandate the wearing of a face covering.”

When Koch challenged Jenkins’ order at a public meeting, saying the governor’s order superseded his, Jenkins sued Abbott.

Medical experts and public health officials recommend masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which can be transmitted through minuscule water droplets in the air.

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Bret Jaspers is a reporter for KERA. His stories have aired nationally on the BBC, NPR’s newsmagazines, and APM’s Marketplace. He collaborated on the series Cash Flows, which won a 2020 Sigma Delta Chi award for Radio Investigative Reporting. He's a member of Actors' Equity, the professional stage actors union.