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Gov. Abbott, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins face off in court over face masks

Jenkins' attorneys are expected to argue the governor's approach is not supported by science or medicine.

DALLAS — Lawyers for Gov. Greg Abbott and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins squared off in court Tuesday morning. The argument was over who has the final say on local control of mask mandates and other measures meant to help control the spread of COVID-19.

Judge Tonya Parker in the 116th Civil District Court in Dallas heard arguments via Zoom from attorneys for Gov. Abbott and attorneys for Jenkins, who presented five witnesses, including Jenkins himself.

"Not to listen to the experts strikes me as overly political or ludicrous," said Dr. Benjamin Greenberg, a neurologist from UT Southwestern Medical Center who spoke in support of research that, he said, proves the effectiveness of masks.

Attorneys for Jenkins also presented documents and social media postings showing that Gov. Abbott, in his previous statewide orders and in his own social media postings, has at times praised the use and effectiveness of face coverings.

Jenkins, questioned by his own legal counsel Charla Aldous, was asked what his motivation was for defying Gov. Abbott and attempting to enact and enforce mask mandates at the local level.

"Do you have any motivation other than doing what you believe was in the best interest of our citizens?" asked Aldous.

"No motivation other than to save lives and tamp down illness," answered Jenkins.

Melissa Griffith, the mom of two daughters in Richardson ISD, also testified in support of mask mandates. Her 7-year-old daughter has a rare medical condition that, if she were to get a serious cold or lung infection brought on by COVID, could possibly be fatal she said in her testimony.

But she was also cross-examined briefly by Gov. Abbott's legal counsel.

"And do you believe that other parents should be allowed to make public health choices for their children?" asked attorney Benjamin Dower.

"Yes," replied Griffith.

But while Gov. Abbott's attorneys did cross-examine Jenkins' witnesses, they presented no witnesses of their own: arguing primarily that Gov. Abbott has the sole authority to decide if a state-wide mask order is necessary and enforced.

"These witnesses are irrelevant. The only question is a legal one," Abbott's attorney Todd Dickerson said. "The only plausible reading of the Texas Disaster Act is that the Governor is the one who has control.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Judge Parker took the arguments under advisement and was expected to issue her "soon." 

A similar court fight is playing out in San Antonio and Bexar County and at last count, there were as many as six similar hearings in process across the state, all expected to eventually wind their way to the Texas Supreme Court.

In the interim, Jenkins' mask order remains in place although it cannot be legally enforced with civil or criminal penalties, pending the result of the TRO.