As the debate rages over the CDC's new guidance advising that even vaccinated people must musk up in places where COVID-19 cases are on the rise, a major incident in a Dallas courtroom is drawing national attention and outrage.
Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch (a Republican) was ordered out of a courtroom by the presiding county judge for not wearing a mask. Judge Clay Jenkins (a Democrat) asked a bailiff to escort the commissioner out after everyone else agreed to don a mask, leaving him the only one to refuse, as video of the incident shows...
"Under the authority that I have as a constitutional court judge... I'm going to require that we do wear our masks in this courtroom given the evolving situation with the Delta virus, the recommendations of the CDC," the judge began the tense proceedings.
Koch responded by saying the new "move toward masking" was issued "without any notice" and questioned whether it is in accordance with Governor Abbot's most recent mandate which bans local governments and officials from imposing mandates for vaccinations and masks:
Koch said it was illegal for Jenkins to require him to wear a mask because it directly violated Gov. Greg Abbott's (R) executive order forbidding local jurisdictions from mandating face covering.
"A failure to comply with this executive order of the governor is subject to a fine of $1,000," Koch warned.
The courtroom then briefly adjourned to allow private consultations over what the law actually says, and what policy the court would enforce. Jenkins cited the Texas Supreme Court which broadly gives judges authority to "protect" their courtrooms. "Commissioner Koch do you refuse to wear your mask in this courtroom?" Jenkins asked. "Yup, you do not have the authority under the governor's order," Koch replied, calling in an abuse of his power.
However, as The Dallas Morning News notes, "Jenkins is not a judge in the judicial sense. The county judge title comes from Texas’ roots as an independent nation, when county officials had both judicial and executive responsibilities." Jenkins said after the tumultuous meeting: "My enemy is the virus, not each other."
.@JJKoch escorted from today’s @DallasCountyTx Commissioners Court meeting by order of @JudgeClayJ for refusing to wear a mask as #COVID19 #DeltaVariant surges. @NBCDFW #NBCDFWNow pic.twitter.com/JVTOQ8RfRR— Ken Kalthoff (@KenKalthoffNBC5) August 3, 2021
Subsequently, "Democratic county Judge Clay Jenkins asked a bailiff to remove Koch from the Dallas County courtroom after he refused. Koch gathered his belongings and left," local media reported.
The momentary legal dueling briefly seen in the video before Koch was escorted out of the courtroom by a uniformed officer has no doubt gained the notice of Abbot's office:
State Rep. Vikki Goodwin (D) and about 30 other lawmakers wrote a letter to the governor urging him to reverse his executive order banning mask requirements on public schools. However, Abbott has continued to fight against mask mandates, even going as far as threatening to fine local officials if they impose such a measure.
Likely such scenes will continue to play out in public spaces across the nation, as it seems the Delta variant is sending state and local governments back to a 'lockdown playbook' and mentality, despite the "successes" of the vaccines - which was previously touted as the passport back to normalcy.
Koch's office has since indicated he has filed a lawsuit against Judge Jenkins as of Wednesday morning.