Good Judge? Bad Judge?

Clay Jenkins became Texas’ first county judge to implement shelter-in-place orders in March.

Since then, opinions about the Dallas county judge’s COVID-19 decisions have ranged from venerating to lambasting. 

Some admirers sport “Listen to Clay Jenkins” or “Jenkins for President” T-shirts. 

Other people are critical, even mocking, and accuse him of overreaching. 

Gov. Greg Abbott claimed Jenkins wanted to put people in jail for not wearing masks and, in an interview on Fox 4, accused the county judge of wanting to “force poverty” on people.

Jenkins defended his decisions, saying he sought guidance from experts in epidemiology, infectious disease, and public health, before implementing safer at home, which “led to a lot less infections and a lot less deaths.”

“They’re the professionals who trained their entire adult lives to advise in this moment,” the judge said. By doing what they recommended, “We got ahead of the virus early.”

“This is a different response than I’ve ever been involved in because every other response, the state supports the local leaders, and the local leaders make the decisions for their jurisdiction.”

Judge Clay Jenkins

“Unfortunately, in late April, the governor stopped us from being able to work with local science and business to control the spread and took it over,” Jenkins said. “The virus doesn’t care about anything but finding a host, and when you don’t listen to science, you do it at the peril of public health and the economy.”

By the newspaper’s mid-July press run, COVID-19 cases were on the rise, Abbott had issued a statewide mask mandate, and talk of another shutdown intensified.

“We’re seeing some of our highest numbers that we’ve ever seen in terms of number of new cases, hospitalizations, ICU admissions — all of these numbers are as bad as we’ve seen it,” said Dr. Philip Huang, Dallas County health and human services director.

“This is a different response than I’ve ever been involved in because every other response, the state supports the local leaders and the local leaders make the decisions for their jurisdiction,” said Jenkins, who’s also tussled with Attorney General Ken Paxton over enforcing precautionary measures during the pandemic.

But conflicts for Jenkins, a Democrat, haven’t only come with Republicans.

Dallas County commissioners voted to limit Jenkins’ emergency powers in April.

“I’m getting my butt kicked on decisions you make on the fly,” Commissioner John Wiley Price told Jenkins during a meeting, as reported by the Dallas Morning News. “I get no input at all. I hear about it from other individuals that you made a decision.”

Jenkins said communication and transparency with government officials, media, and the public have proved essential. To that end, he’s in contact with Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax daily and many other officials at least weekly.

“Since this began back in March… there’s been an open line of communication,” University Park City Manager Robbie Corder said.

“It’s just constant communication, everybody working together,” Jenkins said. “I think what we’ve learned is people rarely make good decisions when they feel attacked or yelled at, so as leaders, we try to stay calm and exhibit the sort of grace toward other people that we want them to exhibit towards us.”


Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order. You can reach her at rachel.snyder@peoplenewspapers.com

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