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Multimillionaire and San Antonio-based personal injury lawyer Thomas J. Henry wants to keep the public out of his divorce proceedings, but the Texas Constitution generally prevents that from happening.
While attorneys representing Henry and his former partner Azteca Henry argue over the question of whether a marriage exists between the two, Thomas J. Henry is still pushing to close courtroom proceedings and put court records under seal. That request likely will not be granted so broadly, said Michael Ariens, a professor of constitutional law at St. Mary’s University.
The Texas Constitution states that “all courts shall be open,” Ariens said.
“Our open courts provision is so important to the democratic process that it will take a compelling reason for any judge to close from public view what’s happening in this case,” he said.
Azteca Henry filed for divorce in November 2019. She and Thomas J. Henry married in 1999 and divorced in 2005. However, Azteca Henry claims she and Thomas J. Henry had a common-law marriage after their divorce. She also said in a January document that in some settings, she continued to refer to Thomas J. Henry as her husband and he referred to her as his wife.
Thomas J. Henry again asked the court on Aug. 7 to close courtroom proceedings, seal court files, and establish a confidentiality order. Judge Cynthia Marie Chapa of the 288th Civil District Court did not grant Henry’s initial request to close the courtroom to the public in July. The San Antonio Report also intervened to keep proceedings open in July.
Ariens said he was unaware of any situation where a Texas court closed the courtroom during a divorce case to the public; even former San Antonio Spurs player and current assistant coach Tim Duncan had divorce proceedings open.
As a long-time attorney himself, Henry likely knows how small the chance of his request being granted was, Ariens said.
“I think he knows that’s a difficult row to hoe,” Ariens said. “I’d be speculating as to why he’s doing this.”
Attorney Stephen Nicholas, who has worked on divorce cases for 36 years in San Antonio, said he has never seen someone ask to close the court for their divorce proceedings. And Texas family code outlines certain categories in which sealing records can be requested, none of which applies to Henry, Nicholas said.
“He’s not adopting anybody, there are currently no juveniles, and there is no termination of a parent-child relationship,” Nicholas said.
Azteca Henry and Thomas J. Henry have two children together: Thomas Henry and Maya Henry. Both are adults, and Maya Henry recently made headlines for getting engaged to former One Direction member Liam Payne. The whole family also starred in a reality TV series called “Hanging With Los Henrys” that has since been removed from YouTube.
Attorneys for Azteca Henry and Thomas J. Henry did not return requests for comment.
Texas civil procedure rules dictate that court records are only sealed if the party asking for that proves “a specific, serious and substantial interest” that outweighs the presumption of open courts and any probable adverse effect on public health or safety. In Thomas J. Henry’s case, public health and safety are not affected, Nicholas pointed out.
“What’s the compelling need? Because he doesn’t want anybody to know how much money he’s been spending or using or earning?” Nicholas asked. “I know a lawyer that had to disclose he had $7 million cash in the bank. He wasn’t happy about it, but [he had to provide that information].”
Henry can file motions to seal court records relevant to separate issues, Nicholas said. The judge would then need to rule on each motion.
“They need to look at it piecemeal, as each issue comes up,” Nicholas said.
Though Henry claims court proceedings must be closed in order to protect his business interests, that’s not a strong enough argument, Ariens said. Courts remain open to ensure the public can see how the government operates, he said. And marriage laws are public laws.
“If it’s a divorce or a claim for divorce, there is a public concern in that because we have rules that forbid people from being married to two people at the same time,” Ariens said. “We have laws against bigamy. That’s where public interest generally arises.”