Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch was escorted out of a meeting Tuesday for refusing to put on a mask.
At the beginning of the Dallas County Commissioners Court meeting, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat, said he was requiring masks to be worn in the session due to the rising COVID-19 case numbers and the increased transmissibility of the delta variant.
Koch, Republican District 2 Commissioner, refused and was escorted out of the meeting by a security officer.
Koch attended the rest of the meeting virtually from his office but complained he was unable to properly participate.
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.
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"A failure to comply with this executive order of the governor is subject to a fine of $1,000," Koch warned.
Jenkins said he was taking the claim from Koch under advisement. A representative for Koch said a lawsuit against Jenkins would be filed Wednesday morning.
Jenkins said he acted based on a Texas Supreme Court order that gives judges the power to take measures to protect people in their courtrooms. Because the county’s highest executive body is a court in name, Jenkins claimed he has authority to require masks.
"In my courtroom, I want to endeavor to keep you safe. So, in this building, that is our order. I trust that people will comply with it," Jenkins said.
“Well this is going to be an interesting interpretation,” Koch responded.
Last week, Judge Maricela Moore, judge of the 162nd Judicial District Court of Dallas County, ordered all people entering the George Allen Courthouse, the Frank Crowley Courthouse, and the Henry Wade Building to wear masks.
In that county order, Moore also cited a Texas Supreme Court order that says the judiciary has authority to "take reasonable actions to avoid exposing court proceedings and participants to the threat of COVID-19."
In Texas, county government meetings are called commissioners court, but the members are the executive and legislative branches of local government.
Koch is the District 2 Commissioner representing Farmers Branch, Carrollton, Addison, Coppell, Richardson, Sachse, Rowlett, and parts of North Dallas including the Park Cities.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, also apparently defied Abbott's order, and said all city employees must wear masks while indoors starting Wednesday, regardless of their vaccination status.
So far, Abbott has not responded or commented on the mask mandates being imposed by local officials.
At the Dallas County Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday, Dallas County Health Director Dr. Philip Huang discussed the COVID-19 threat level that he said is bordering on elevation to the highest red from the current orange. Hospitalization figures are triple what they were a few weeks ago.
Huang said the extremely contagious delta variant is spreading fast among unvaccinated people, but vaccinated individuals can still transmit the virus.
"They don’t get as ill but they can carry it and also spread it to other people," Huang said. "That's why the masks for vaccinated people when you’re in public settings indoors, becomes more important."
Huang said Dallas County Health and Human Services is sending block walkers to neighborhoods with the most unvaccinated people. The Fair Park vaccination hub will re-open for the next several Saturdays to offer shots, along with other pop-up vaccine sites around the area. Dallas County commissioners Tuesday approved $25 incentives to encourage people to get vaccinated.
A new marketing contractor has been hired to help promote the need for more vaccination, but officials said the campaign was still in the works.
"I want that outreach in the community," Commissioner John Wiley Price said.
Here is a link to the latest Dallas County vaccination information.