Busted: Texas judges break their own rules on coronavirus mandates

Three Texas judges have been exposed for their hypocrisy in demanding coronavirus mitigation mandates be upheld by the general public while they do not follow them in private. The offenders are a bipartisan bunch – two Republicans and one Democrat. Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, a Republican, and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat, and Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell, a Republican have been busted for insisting Texans adhere to strict coronavirus orders while they do as they please.

All of the judges have called for Governor Abbott to mandate stricter orders as he provides guidance on mitigating the coronavirus. Let’s start with Judge Whitley. Last month he asked Governor Abbott for the authority to fine people for not wearing a face mask. He also lectured people to keep Thanksgiving gatherings small. On November 24 the judge extended Tarrant County’s mask mandate until at least Feb. 28, 2021. So, when five cars and an RV were spotted in front of his house on Thanksgiving day, a citizen exposed the scene on her Facebook page.

Judge Whitley offered an excuse – the Thanksgathering gathering at this house this year was much smaller than normal. The vehicles belonged to 12 of his immediate family members – seven adults and five kids. He said that normally he would be hosting 25 to 30 people at this house for the holiday. Whitley said he rented the RV to use the next day. He and his wife went to Wichita Falls to visit her 96-year-old mother. He excused that trip by saying the family took separate cars and practiced social distancing at her house. He even throws other judges under the bus by defensively saying hey, he’s not as stringent as other judges in his demands from the county’s residents.

“We wear masks as much as possible. But with immediate family, we’re very careful. We know where we’ve all been,” Whitley said. “I’ve always said that (with) your immediate family, you just have to use your best guess and do those things that you feel are necessary to protect your family.”

“I’m not going to tell you that there aren’t times in which the mask is not there. But you will find very very few pictures where I don’t have a mask on. And if you do then it may be, ‘okay, every once in a while I just forget. Because I hate these things as much as anybody else does.

He said that despite the way he’s been portrayed, regarding his stance on mask mandates, “I have not been near as conservative or mandate-happy as some would have liked for me to have been” and that the county’s public health department “would have shut everything down if they could.”

“Before the governor issued his order, you know, they would have liked for me to have people stay at home and shut businesses down. I said, ‘no we’re not going to do that.’”

“My focus has been, keep the hospitals open, keep the businesses open,” he said. “The hope was my (mandating) masks, that it would slow the growth of COVID-19 and would allow businesses to stay open and not have to shut back down.”

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is frequently in the news for his aggressive stance on wearing face masks and limiting gatherings. In June he pushed for a countywide face mask mandate, for example, but in October Jenkins officiated at a wedding and was maskless, according to a guest who photographed him.

https://twitter.com/JenkinsSucks/status/1331012584733102082

There is social distancing going on in that photo and just a few people visible but the judge is clearly not wearing a face mask. When questioned, his office provided two more photographs from the ceremony which show him wearing a mask.

“The ceremony took place when community spread was much lower and while the Dallas County COVID-19 risk was at ‘Orange-Moderate Risk,’ his office said in a statement, adding that he followed county safety protocols and “temporarily removed his facial covering while officiating and immediately placed it back on covering both his nose and mouth.”

The third judge making headlines is Judge Bill Gravell. He violated his own stay-at-home orders to attend his grandson’s birthday party. When caught by a neighbor, Gravell said he just wanted to celebrate his grandson’s fifth birthday. Police were called and Gravell was charged on Monday, Nov. 23, for violating his emergency management plan in spring 2020. In April, Gravell extended the county’s stay-at-home orders through the end of the month. A criminal complaint was filed and a special prosecutor was appointed. He will pay a $1,000 fine.

The judge will plead guilty and pay a $1,000 fine, KVUE’s Tony Plohetski confirmed. Gravell’s attorney said he is the only person to be prosecuted for such violation and that the Texas Rangers cleared him for other wrongdoing.

On Nov. 19, Williamson County health officials announced their county would be moving from the “Orange” phase to “Red.” This is the highest level in Williamson County’s response and means there is now uncontrolled transmission of COVID-19 in the community.

How many grandparents have missed birthday parties for their young grandchildren during stay-at-home orders? How many people have canceled weddings and other family celebrations? People listened to public officials this year and ate Thanksgiving dinner alone or just with a spouse. The general public is making the sacrifices they are being asked to do while public officials go about their lives as they wish. The hypocrisy has caused citizens to take photographs as evidence of their behavior and turn them into authorities or expose them on social media. Turning one against another isn’t good for a community. Public officials should be leading by example. The rules apply to everyone. If they don’t really believe in the importance of adhering to mitigation mandates, they shouldn’t be imposing them on everyone else.