Dallas County commissioners voted down a controversial contract buyout for their legal adviser at a specially called meeting Monday morning.
Former Civil Court Judge Bob McGrath receives nearly $140,000 in a one-year contract for his services through May.
Three of the five Dallas County Commissioners voted to hire him earlier this year during a dispute with the Dallas County district attorney, who is supposed to provide legal advice to the Commissioners Court.
“At the time, the majority of the court felt that we were not getting even-handed legal representation from the civil members of the DA’s staff,” Commissioner Maurine Dickey said.
But two of those three commissioners were defeated by voters this year, and rumor had it that the new majority would get rid of McGrath after new members are sworn in.
Outgoing Dallas County Judge Jim Foster, the current leader of the court, called a special meeting for 8:45 a.m. Monday with a buyout for McGrath as the only item of business.
Outgoing Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield moved approval of the item and Foster seconded the motion.
Then Commissioner Mike Cantrell spoke up.
“Apparently there was discussion among three members of the court about calling the meeting and what they wanted to do,” said Cantrell, who voted against McGrath’s hiring in the first place.
“This lame duck court, if this passes, will go down as the Grinch that stole at least 50,000,” Cantrell said, referring to the money McGrath would be paid to leave now without doing any more work.
“If it doesn’t pass, it just goes to show when they are caught red-handed with their hands in the county treasury, then they back off,” Cantrell said.
The other three denied talking to each other about the issue, but Dickey, who voted to hire McGrath before, agreed that he should not be paid now for doing nothing.
“I am going to vote in favor of the taxpayer and against this court order,” Dickey said. “This doesn’t mean the judge needs to sit in his office twiddling his thumbs. I have been assured by the members of the incoming administration that Judge McGrath will be given specific duties and relevant duties for the duration of his contract."
Commissioner John Wiley Price, who voted against hiring McGrath before, said he does not know what McGrath will do for the next several months.
“There’s nothing to advise us on," he said. "We don’t have enough volume of work for that kind of compensation."
Incoming County Judge Clay Jenkins said commissioners should return to using the district attorney for legal advice.
“We’ll go back to that model at the appropriate time when his contract runs out. In the meantime, we’ll treat he and all employees with dignity and respect and get maximum amount of appropriate work from them,” Jenkins said about McGrath.
Even though the measure was defeated, Foster said it now appears the new commissioners will not unfairly force McGrath out.
“I believe now that light has been shown upon this subject it will have a totally different end result,” Foster said.
McGrath declined to speak about the issue at the meeting or afterward.
Newly elected Commissioner Elba Garcia will replace Mayfield, and Jenkins replaces Foster on Jan. 1.
Cantrell, Dickey and Price said they believe the new court will be more harmonious, and Price said he is looking forward to January "very much so."