Texas Powerhouse Steps Down: Harris County Judge’s Shocking Departure Amidst Mental Health Battle and Controversies

When she was 27 years old, Lina Hidalgo won the election for Harris County Judge without any political office experience. After winning her second term in office, she took a leave of absence for treatment at an inpatient facility for clinical depression. 

Checked Herself Into a Facility

In a statement addressed to the county’s nearly 5 million residents, Hidalgo said she “checked herself into a facility outside of Texas…for inpatient treatment.”

She said she had been coping with depression “for some time,” but it had been undiagnosed until recently.

She said, “My experience has been difficult, but I am taking it as an opportunity to be open about my own struggle, my own challenges, and to encourage others, who need help, to seek treatment. All of us know someone who suffers from depression. I encourage every person that is struggling with mental health challenges to look for support in your community, your loved ones, and your doctor.”

“I Remain Passionate About Harris County and Its People and Look Forward To Returning at Full Strength”

Her doctor recommended that Hidalgo check herself into an out-of-state facility to receive inpatient treatment. Hidalgo also said in her statement that it was important to her “personally and professionally” to confront the issue quickly.

“I remain passionate about Harris County and its people and look forward to returning at full strength,” said Hidalgo.

In Texas, the title of “county judge” is a misnomer. These elected officials are not judges in a courtroom but presiding officials in their respective counties. The county judge has a big say in the budget and oversees local emergency response.

Under Texas statute, a county judge may delegate signing authority to another county officer in their absence.

Unfitness or Inability to Promptly and Properly Discharge Official Duties

But if there is an emergency, under the Texas Disaster Act, the county judge is the only official who can declare a local state of emergency or order specific actions such as an evacuation.

A county judge is allowed to take a leave of absence. However, the Texas code also allows a county resident to file a petition to remove an elected official from office for incompetence or official misconduct.

Incompetency includes “unfitness or inability to promptly and properly discharge official duties because of a serious physical or mental defect that did not exist at the time of the officer’s election.”

This is not the only leave of absence the county judge has taken. She took another personal leave to visit her ailing grandfather in Colombia.

Hidalgo Won the Election in 2018 But Never Held an Elected Position

During this time, she also spent time in Thailand for vacation, but her trip was cut short after a tornado hit in Harris County. Hidalgo returned home from her trip the day after the tornado hit.

When Hidalgo won the election in 2018, she had never held an elected position. She defeated incumbent Republican Ed Emmett, who had been the Harris County Judge for the previous twelve years. Her unexpected win gave the Harris County Commissioner’s Court a Democratic majority.

Ed Emmett reminded community members that the County Judge is also head of the Office of Emergency Management, and “those responsibilities are not transferable.” Hidalgo assured her staff that she would remain in communication and be available in an emergency.

Hidalgo has faced many controversies since taking office. However, her colleagues seemed to support her decision to get treatment for her depression. The mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, said that he hoped this situation would encourage others to reach out for help if they need it.

“Respect, Appreciation, and Support”

Another colleague said Hidalgo deserved “respect, appreciation, and support” during her mental health crisis. This person added, “It is extremely important we all prioritize our mental health and ask for help, as well as to be present for anyone dealing with mental illness.”

While many support Hidalgo, others see it as an escape from the ongoing criminal investigation into how her office awarded and then canceled an $11 million contract for COVID-19 vaccine outreach.

Three of Hidalgo’s aides, including her chief of staff, were indicted on felony charges of misuse of public information and tampering with a government record.

She Became One of the State’s Most Prominent Democrats

With the case ongoing, Hidalgo stepped away from her duties and responsibilities as the county judge and checked into the inpatient facility out of state.

During her time in office, Hidalgo has built a national profile as she led the county amid the COVID-19 pandemic and became one of the state’s most prominent Democrats — and a major target for Republicans in Texas.

Hidalgo implemented a $14.3 million initiative using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to increase access to mental health services in Harris County.

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Source: Houston Chronicle