Dallas County Judge says he followed Gov. Abbott’s guidelines when issuing public health orders, AG Paxton calls them “unlawful”

Dallas County Judge says he followed Gov. Abbott’s guidelines when issuing public health orders, AG Paxton calls them “unlawful”
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins (Source: Dallas County)

DALLAS, Texas (KCBD) - A Dallas County Judge has responded to a letter from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that claims local public health orders recently issued by the judge are “unlawful and unenforceable.”

On Tuesday, Paxton released three letters to Bexar County, and the City of San Antonio; Travis County, and the City of Austin; and Dallas County, stating public health orders in the three counties “include strict and unconstitutional demands for houses of worship, unnecessary and onerous restrictions on allowing essential services to operate, such as tracking customers who visit certain restaurants, penalties for not wearing masks, shelter-in-place demands, criminal penalties for violating state or local health orders, and failing to differentiate between recommendations and mandates.”

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins released his response to the Attorney General’s letter, saying the public health guidelines were based on Governor Abbott’s recommendations; “never imagining he did not want his own guidelines followed,” Jenkins said.

The Attorney General’s letter outlines where he believes citizens may be confused on aspects of current public health guidelines regarding houses of worship and essential businesses, as well as the use of masks and the definition of the Governor’s “shelter-in-place” order.

Paxton says the Governor’s executive order issued on May 5 recognizes churches, congregations and houses of worship as essential services, without mandating how services should be conducted. He adds the Judge’s order conflicts with the governor’s order by including “potential limitations on the number of people who can attend religious services.”

In his letter to Dallas County, the Attorney General states Judge Jenkins’ order conflicts with the Governor’s order regarding essential and reopened businesses, claiming some of the requirements “far exceed what is permitted” under Governor Abbott’s order. “Executive order GA-21 supersedes local orders restricting essential or reopened services,” Paxton said.

The Attorney General also took issue with part of the Judge’s order on masks. Judge Jenkins’ order states “To the greatest extent possible all persons over the age of two (2) shall wear some form of covering over their nose and mouth, such as a homemade mask, scarf, bandana or handkerchief, when patronizing an Essential Business or Reopened Service, or using public transportation.”

Paxton claims this part of the order “purports to strip Texans of their agency,” while the order from judge Jenkins states “no law enforcement officer shall stop, detain, or arrest any person based on a person failing to wear a cloth covering or mask.”

The order by Judge Jenkins amended on May 4 states: “Reopened Services must comply Minimum Standard Health Protocols, in The Governor’s Report to Open Texas,” adding “to the extent the Governor’s Minimum Standard Health Protocols are recommendations, the Health Protocols are adopted as mandatory rules in Dallas County.”

Judge Jenkins’ order authorizes The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, the Dallas County Fire Marshal’s Office, and other peace officers to enforce the order, but Attorney General Paxton argues that as far as the order conflict’s with Governor Abbott’s order, it is unenforceable.

You can read a full copy of Judge Jenkins’ order here.

You can read a full copy of Governor Abbott’s order here.

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