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Legal matters

Dem primary loser in CD06 files “vote fraud” lawsuit

That sound you hear is me banging my head on my desk.

Ruby Woolridge

Democrat Ruby Woolridge has filed a lawsuit challenging her 717-vote primary runoff loss for the 6th Congressional District to Jana Lynne Sanchez.

In the lawsuit, Woolridge claims that Sanchez “knowingly filed petitions with fraudulent signatures” in order to secure a spot on the March primary ballot.

Sanchez called the lawsuit “frivolous.”

“Unwarranted accusations cannot undo months of hard work spent collecting qualifying signatures on voters’ doorsteps and at public events, cross-referencing names and addresses with databases and eliminating any that raised questions,” said Sanchez, a public relations specialist. “The voters clearly chose us in the primary.”

[…]

In the lawsuit, Woolridge claims that Sanchez “knowingly concealed the fraudulent signatures from the Democratic local authorities” and that the volunteer circulators signed “the forged petitions before a notary public under duress.”

Jana Sanchez

Woolridge said she “only discovered the fraudulent conduct after the initial primary election was held for the Congressional seat for District 6,” according to the lawsuit. And she claims some people couldn’t vote in the primary election because someone else had already voted in their name through mail-in ballots.

She asks, in the lawsuit, for a special election or second runoff election to be held without Sanchez’s name on the ballot.

‘The purpose of the Election Code is to prevent fraud in our primary and general elections,” Woolridge’s lawsuit states. “The fraudulent and forged signatures submitted and filed by (Sanchez) in her petitions for a place on the Democratic ballot renders her applications null and void.”

The lawsuit was filed in Ellis County against Sanchez, as well as the Texas Democratic Party, Democratic chairmen in Tarrant, Ellis and Navarro counties and the Texas secretary of state.

Sanchez filed paperwork with the court asking that the lawsuit be dismissed.

“Ms. Sanchez denies any fraud by her campaign,” her filing states. “The small group of signatures that raised suspicions were set aside before ballot petition filing. Those signatures appear to have been collected by a person later revealed to have been helping the Woolridge Campaign while paid as a contractor for the Sanchez Campaign and who later openly moved over to the Woolridge camp. That person since admitted to signing a few names on behalf of voters (potentially a crime and so reported to appropriate authorities prior to receipt of the lawsuit).”

Sanchez said she will keep fighting the lawsuit.

The DMN has a copy of the lawsuit as well as Sanchez’s response. While I think this is highly likely to be bullshit, Woolridge has the right to challenge the result if she has reason to believe she was wronged. But as I said when now-former State Rep. Lon Burnam tried something similar after losing his primary in 2014, invoking Republican talking points about “vote fraud” will not get you any sympathy from me. Don’t let your desire to win cause you to lose your soul. I’m rooting for a swift and decisive resolution to this.

Texans move to dismiss one cheerleader lawsuit

Standard stuff, I presume.

Attorneys for the Houston Texans have asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the team by five former cheerleaders or to delay proceedings while the former cheerleaders’ complaints are submitted to arbitration.

Team attorneys, in a motion filed with U.S. District Judge David Hitner, cite several flaws in what they describe as a “frivolous” lawsuit filed by former cheerleaders Hannah Turnbow, Ainsley Parish, Morgan Wiederhold, Ashley Rodriguez and Kelly Neuner.

The suit is one of two filed last month by former Texans cheerleaders, complaining of wage violations, breach of contract, negligence and other issues.

Among the lawsuit’s flaws, the Texans say, is that former cheerleaders acted improperly by filing legal action despite signing contracts that require mandatory arbitration for disputes. If the suit is not dismissed, the team says, it at least should be stayed pending arbitration.

[…]

The former cheerleaders also “want to rewrite history,” the team says, by complaining about their treatment after several posted complimentary messages on social media about their association with the team.

“Above all, the plaintiffs want to ignore the law, which dictates that their claims fail, whether in arbitration … or in this court,” lawyers add.

The standard cheerleader contract includes a clause in which both sides agree that the NFL commissioner will preside over binding arbitration to settle any disputes. The commissioner also has authority to refer the dispute to an outside arbitrator.

In a separate filing, attorneys for the team say that Neuner’s complaint against the team because she has not been a cheerleader since the summer of 2011 and that that her complaints fall outside the statute of limitations, which range from 300 days to four years, along with being “factually invalid.”

See here for the background. I’m not aware of any action with the other lawsuit, but my guess is that the team will have a similar response. For sure, the cheerleaders will want to keep this in a courtroom and away from an arbitrator. That’s all I’ve got, so we’ll see what happens.

Paxton wants magistrates’ lawsuit tossed

We all want things, Kenny.

Best mugshot ever

The state attorney general Monday asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit by three Harris County hearing officers who are fighting sanctions by Texas’ judicial ethics commission earlier this year over unfair bail practices.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also asked that the case brought by three admonished magistrates be transferred from Harris County, where the judges sit, to Travis County, where the State Commission on Judicial Conduct is based. Paxton also asserts that the state watchdog agency has “sovereign immunity” from being sued.

The lawsuit, filed in May by three local magistrates, challenges the commission’s finding that they violated the state code of conduct for judges during probable cause hearings for newly arrested defendants. The hearing officers, Eric Hagstette, Jill Wallace and Joseph Licata III, initially challenged the commission’s findings through a more straightforward appeal to the state’s Special Court of Review. However, they later withdrew that appeal and sued the commission to have their records be cleared of the findings of misconduct.

Mike Stafford, who is representing the magistrates free of charge in this lawsuit, said the sanctions should be eliminated because the watchdog commission surpassed its authority in telling magistrates they can’t refer bond matters to the judges assigned to the cases.

“This case presents an important and rare opportunity to affirm that the Commission may not interpret Texas law and to ensure that the Commission is not allowed to exceed its mandate,” Stafford argued in district court filings.

See here for the background. I presume the reason to ask for a transfer as well as a dismissal is that if you don’t get the one you might at least get the other. Beyond that, I have no particular insights so I’ll just note this for the record and move on.

SCOTUS punts on non-Texas redistricting cases

The Magic 8 ballSCOTUS says Reply hazy, try again later in the two partisan gerrymandering cases before it.

On Monday, the court punted two major political redistricting cases: Gill v. Whitford, a challenge to Wisconsin’s Republican gerrymander, and Benisek v. Lamone, a challenge to Maryland’s Democratic gerrymander. Together, Gill and Benisek presented the Supreme Court with an opportunity to finally decide whether legislators violate the Constitution when they draw districts designed to dilute the power of voters’ ballots on the basis of their political associations. Instead, the court shooed away both cases on plausible but not entirely satisfactory grounds. Its nondecision will allow partisan gerrymandering to continue for the time being. Yet Justice Elena Kagan’s concurring opinion provides a road map for voting rights advocates to follow in the future—one that might attract Justice Anthony Kennedy’s vote if he remains on the court.

Ironically, Gill’s assault on Wisconsin’s gerrymander failed for precisely the reason that so many advocates thought it would succeed. In 2004, the Supreme Court splintered on the question of whether the judiciary can strike down a legislative map drawn along unduly political lines. Kennedy declared that courts might be able to, because partisan gerrymandering constitutes a genuine threat to voters’ First Amendment rights to free association and expression. But first, Kennedy wrote, the courts would need reliable, manageable, and consistent “judicial standards” to determine when, exactly, a gerrymander infringes upon these rights.

Gill marked an effort to hand Kennedy that standard, in the form of the “efficiency gap.” This formula measures two types of “wasted votes”: “lost votes” cast for a defeated candidate and “surplus votes” cast for a winning candidate that weren’t necessary for her to win. As its creator explains it, the efficiency gap measures “the difference between the parties’ respective wasted votes in an election, divided by the total number of votes cast.” A large efficiency gap indicates a particularly egregious partisan gerrymander; an efficiency gap of 7 percent can entrench the majority party’s power indefinitely. Wisconsin’s GOP-drawn gerrymander has an efficiency gap of 13 percent, indicating that Democrats could not possibly win back a majority in the state legislature. The Gill plaintiffs used this calculation as proof that Wisconsin Republicans had trammeled their First Amendment rights.

But here’s the problem: In order to bring a lawsuit in federal court, an individual must have standing—a “particularized injury” that burdens their rights individually. And in Gill, the group of voters who sued Wisconsin Republicans had not proved that their specific votes had been diluted on account of their association with the Democratic Party. Instead, Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his majority opinion, they “rested their case” on a “theory of statewide injury to Wisconsin Democrats.” This statewide injury, Roberts held, was not sufficiently particularized to give the plaintiffs standing to sue. So he sent the case back down to the lower court, giving the plaintiffs another opportunity to prove that Wisconsin’s gerrymander directly injures them.

[…]

Kagan, on the other hand, wrote a concurring opinion, joined by the other three liberals, effectively providing the plaintiffs with guidance on how to prove standing next time around. After reiterating that partisan gerrymandering is “incompatible with democratic principles,” Kagan explained that the plaintiffs should now “introduce evidence that their individual districts” were drawn to dilute Democratic votes. Moreover, the lower court should still “consider statewide evidence,” such as GOP mapmakers’ explicit desire to create a map that disfavored Democrats. Taken together, this evidence should suffice to give the plaintiffs standing.

But Kagan went further, giving the plaintiffs a different route to victory on their second try. The justice explained that partisan gerrymandering may burden a voter’s constitutional rights even if she does not live in a gerrymandered district. In Wisconsin, for example, all members of the state Democratic party are “deprived of their natural political strength by a partisan gerrymander.” As a result, members of this “disfavored party … may face difficulties fundraising, registering voters, attracting volunteers, generating support from independents, and recruiting candidates to run for office.” Individual voters may have standing, Kagan wrote, when mapmakers burden their “associational rights” in this manner. And their injury—a broad harm to their “First Amendment rights of association”—would be fairly easy to prove.

I’ll let you read that story and the “more reading” links at the end for analysis, but that’s the gist of it there. Expect to see this case take another tour through the courts, with a different name or set of names on top. The main thing to remember otherwise is that these cases were about partisan gerrymandering, which is not a claim being decided in the Texas litigation. That one is an old-fashioned racial discrimination claim, so the court has no real basis to send it back. Though with this court, who knows. I was clearly of the opinion back in April when the case was argued that we would have a decision by the end of June, but now I think I got that wrong. The Gill case was argued last October, so based on that I now expect this to be handed down late in the year. But again, with this court, who knows? Ian Millhiser, Rick Hasen, Daily Kos, and Pema Levy have more.

Once more with the bail order for Harris County

Getting close to the end.

The federal judge presiding over the landmark bail lawsuit against Harris County said she planned to issue revised instructions within two weeks for how pretrial release should operate for thousands of poor people arrested on low-level offenses.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal fielded input Thursday from attorneys on both sides of the contentious two-year dispute about which defendants should be held in custody and which ones released during the first two days following an arrest.

Rosenthal’s instructions from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals were to figure out details, but she said she hoped the county, which has spent more than $6.1 million battling the lawsuit, was on board with the appeals court’s overall findings about the unfairness of “wealth based detention.”

[…]

The attorneys for the indigent defendants asked Rosenthal to consider ordering the immediate release of poor people arrested on certain offenses like drunk driving or writing bad checks if people with the means to pay bond were being released immediately on the same charges.

Lawyers for Harris County, and the hearing officers and county court at law judges who oppose the lawsuit, requested that Rosenthal follow the appeals court instructions to allow up to 48 hours for indigent defendants to appear before a judge who can make an appropriate determination about bail.

Judge Rosenthal had issued final instructions earlier in June, so I presume this is a modification of that. It’s my hope that the next development in this case will a ruling that satisfies the plaintiffs and that the defense accepts. We really do need to end this litigation, and there’s not much of an argument left for the county to make. Regardless, it’s still a good idea to vote out the judges that made us go through all this in November. A political resolution on top of a legal one would really make the difference.

Omnibus lawsuit against anti-abortion laws

Talk about going big.

Two years after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned major provisions of Texas’ omnibus House Bill 2, abortion rights groups want to use that decision to take down years’ worth of anti-abortion legislation, before the court makeup changes. In a 5-3 decision, the justices determined that provisions of the 2013 law didn’t provide “medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes.” Emboldened by the ruling, abortion providers went through years of Texas regulations to determine others that could be challenged under the same health and safety standard, leading to the lawsuit filed against the attorney general, state health department, and others.

“I think of this as an omnibus repeal,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, the lead plaintiff in the HB 2 case and the new lawsuit. “There’s a new standard, and we can look at it to challenge a bunch of things at once.”

The lawsuit, which Hagstrom Miller calls “the big fix,” is far-reaching. Filed in federal district court in Austin, it challenges a parental notification law from 1999 and abortion reporting requirements from 2017. It takes issue with the state’s ultrasound requirement, mandatory waiting period, parental consent requirement, restrictions on medication abortion and telehealth services, provider licensing laws and more than 20 other restrictions.

[…]

Work began on the new lawsuit not long after the HB 2 decision. Last May, Hagstrom Miller hinted at litigation, saying at the reopening of her Austin clinic that “we have the opportunity to try to get some other things fixed by the Supreme Court before the makeup changes — if the makeup changes.” She had already started brainstorming this lawsuit, holding meetings with providers and scribbling regulations to tackle on whiteboards, she told the Observer on Wednesday.

The new challenge comes as conservative lawmakers around the country are aggressively pushing anti-abortion legislation. One bill proposed during the last session of the Texas Legislature would have criminalized abortion and charged women and providers with murder. The Legislature passed a measure that bans the most common form of second-trimester abortion, and another that requires the burial or cremation of fetal remains after abortions and miscarriages. Both are currently blocked, but some anti-abortion advocates hope to push the former to the Supreme Court.

The Trib lists the plaintiffs: the Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, the Afiya Center, Fund Texas Choice, the Lilith Fund, the Texas Equal Access Fund, the West Fund and Dr. Bhavik Kumar, who serves as medical director of the Whole Woman’s Health Alliance clinic. I can imagine them scoring at least a significant partial win in district court, then running into significant resistance from the Fifth Circuit – basically, exactly what happened with the lawsuit against HB2 – and after that who knows. It’s a bold strategy and has the potential for a lot of good, but as with any bold strategy there’s risk as well. Needless to say, I wish them all the best. A press release from the West Fund is here, and the Chron and Texas Monthly have more.

The Ohio voter purge case

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

I refer to the Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute case that was decided by SCOTUS on Monday. Here’s a long reading list if you want to get up to speed on it:

SCOTUSBlog
Pema Levy
Mark Joseph Stern
Kira Lerner

Daniel Nichanian
Josh Douglas
Dahlia Lithwick
Rick Hasen
Ian Millhiser
Ari Berman
Kevin Drum

Go ahead and peruse. I’ll wait.

All right. The coverage and analysis of this ruling focuses on Ohio, for the obvious reason that this is where the case came from, and also because, as Dahlia Lithwick puts it, Ohio is the “purgiest of all the purgey states”. There’s some discussion about how this ruling paints a roadmap for other states that are inclined to do what Ohio has been doing to follow, though as the Rick Hasen piece notes there’s also a potential roadmap for blocking such efforts in the courts. What I want to know, of course, is how this will and may affect Texas. To the best of my knowledge, this kind of voter roll updating/purging is done at the county level. We certainly saw various underhanded tricks here in Harris County, like sending notices to update one’s voter registration information to known old addresses, back in the Paul Bettencourt/Leo Vasquez/Don Sumners days, but with Ann Harris Bennett in office now it’s less of a concern.

So my question is, what role does our Secretary of State play in all this, and what opportunities does our SOS have to “assist” the county election admins/voter registrars in “cleaning up” their voter rolls? What does the SOS do now, and what could our Lege enable or direct it to do now that Husted is law? I don’t have the expertise to say, and the election law-minded folks on Facebook that I rely on have not had anything to say about this. It sure would be nice if one of our professional news-gathering organizations put someone on to this question.

Once, twice, three times a lawsuit

There’s actually now five lawsuits and counting over the Census citizenship question, but “three” fit my headline better.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Trump administration on Wednesday over its decision to add a controversial question about US citizenship to the 2020 census. The ACLU suit is the fifth one challenging the citizenship question, which is likely to depress the response rate among immigrants and reduce the political power of the cities and states where large numbers of them live.

“The addition of the citizenship question is a naked act of intentional discrimination directed at immigrant communities of color that is intended to punish their presence, avoid their recognition, stunt their growing political power, and deprive them and the communities in which they live of economic benefits,” states the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of immigrants’ rights groups.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Trump administration on Wednesday over its decision to add a controversial question about US citizenship to the 2020 census.

[…]

The ACLU lawsuit follows four similar suits: one from the state of California, one from New York and 16 other states, and one each from a Democratic redistricting group led by former Attorney General Eric Holder and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

See here, here, and here for some background. I wouldn’t trust this administration’s ability to run a garage sale, but this particular development just adds another deep layer of concern. I sure hope we start seeing some action on these lawsuits, because time is very much of the essence. Daily Kos has more.

Justice Department won’t defend DACA, either

Even less of a surprise.

Agreeing with a lawsuit filed by the state of Texas against the Trump administration to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the U.S. Justice Department told the courts late Friday the program should be terminated.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the administration May 1, alleging the Obama-era program was unconstitutional.

[…]

The Department of Justice said in its filing Friday that DACA is unlawful because it violates the U.S. Constitution in the same way the ill-fated 2014 Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, did. That program that was never implemented after Texas and a coalition of states successfully challenged it in court.

“In sum, as the [U.S.] Attorney General correctly advised DHS, DACA is unlawful because it is an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws that shares the same legal defects that DAPA (and expanded DACA) did,” the filing states.

The DOJ asks that if Texas’ request to halt the program is granted, that the court delay its ruling for two weeks to seek immediate relief from the other court rulings that have mandated the federal government keep the DACA program.

“The DACA litigation brings into sharp focus the problems with nationwide injunctions, and the United States continues to maintain that injunctions that are broader than necessary to redress the plaintiffs’ own injuries are improper,” the DOJ attorneys wrote.

See here for the background. The complaint about nationwide injunctions is kind of precious, since that’s what Paxton is seeking here and has sought in other litigation, which is why he picked this particular court for his filing. This is now the second major Paxton-filed lawsuit that the Justice Department has washed it hands of. MALDEF was allowed to intervene in this lawsuit on behalf of a group of DREAMers in May, so DACA will be defended, no doubt more vigorously than the Justice Department would have done anyway. It’s still a crappy and dangerous thing to do, to pick and choose what laws are worth defending.

On a side note:

In total, the seven states that are part of the lawsuit would lose an estimated $6.9 billion in annual gross domestic product loss by kicking DACA recipients out of the labor force in the respective states. The bulk of these losses would be concentrated in Texas, which stands to lose $6 billion from its annual GDP.

[…]

The seven states suing the Trump administration stand to lose an estimated $369 million annually in state and local tax revenue they currently receive. Texas would lose the most at $313 million in revenue annually.

You know, just in case you needed another reason to think that killing DACA is a really bad idea. Link via Daily Kos.

The Huffman influence

Oops.

Sen. Joan Huffman

A lawsuit filed in state district court Monday alleges that the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission improperly fired one of its sergeants after he told federal law enforcement that state Sen. Joan Huffman had blocked an investigation into a Longview bar she and her husband partially owned.

The whistleblower lawsuit against the TABC — where the former sergeant, Marcus Stokke, worked for 16 years — says that last year Stokke told the FBI, a federal prosecutor and the agency’s internal affairs department that Huffman interfered in an investigation into Graham Central Station. The bar had drawn scrutiny for failing to report multiple “breaches of the peace” that took place on or near its premises, including a sexual assault, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Austin.

[…]

According to the lawsuit, agency officials told Stokke to discontinue an investigation into Graham Central Station and erase digital and print records documenting the bar’s alleged wrongdoing.

Stokke, who the lawsuit says oversaw 24 counties in northeast Texas for the liquor agency, contacted law enforcement authorities in May 2017 and lost his job the following October. Stokke provided the Tribune with a copy of his termination letter which outlines a number of reasons for his dismissal, including insubordination and unethical conduct. The lawsuit says those claims are false.

“It was total retaliation,” Stokke said in an interview. He is seeking at least $200,000 in damages as well as reinstatement to his old job at the TABC.

Asked how he knew Huffman had interfered in the investigation, Stokke said he does “not have any evidence that she actually, you know, conspired or told anybody to falsify records or delete records or anything like that.”

But, he said, the reason the agency officials gave when they instructed him to end the investigation was, “this is really political and there’s a state senator involved.”

That’s pretty thin, to be honest. Huffman denies the allegation, and it’s easy to see why. I hope there’s something to this, because if not it would have been better all around to not say anything.

Justice Department drops out of latest Obamacare lawsuit

Which of course was filed in Texas by our felonious Attorney General.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The Trump administration said Thursday night that it will not defend the Affordable Care Act against the latest legal challenge to its constitutionality — a dramatic break from the executive branch’s tradition of arguing to uphold existing statutes and a land mine for health insurance changes the ACA brought about.

In a brief filed in a Texas federal court and an accompanying letter to the House and Senate leaders of both parties, the Justice Department agrees in large part with the 20 Republican-led states that brought the suit. They contend that the ACA provision requiring most Americans to carry health insurance soon will no longer be constitutional and that, as a result, consumer insurance protections under the law will not be valid, either.

The three-page letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions begins by saying that Justice adopted its position “with the approval of the President of the United States.” The letter acknowledges that the decision not to defend an existing law deviates from history but contends that it is not unprecedented.

The bold swipe at the ACA, a Republican whipping post since its 2010 passage, does not immediately affect any of its provisions. But it puts the law on far more wobbly legal footing in the case, which is being heard by a GOP-appointed judge who has in other recent cases ruled against more minor aspects.

The administration does not go as far as the Texas attorney general and his counterparts. In their suit, lodged in February in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, they argue that the entire law is now invalid.

By contrast, the Justice brief and letter say many other aspects of the law can survive because they can be considered legally distinct from the insurance mandate and such consumer protections as a ban on charging more or refusing coverage to people with preexisting medical conditions.

[…]

In an unusual filing just before 6 p.m. Thursday, when the brief was due, the three career Justice attorneys involved in the case — Joel McElvain, Eric Beckenhauer and Rebecca Kopplin — withdrew.

The department’s argument, if adopted by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, “would be breathtaking in its effect,’ said Timothy Jost, a retired Washington and Lee law professor who follows such litigation closely. “Of all of the actions the Trump administration has taken to undermine individual insurance markets, this may be the most destabilizing. . . . [If] I’m an insurer, I don’t know what I am supposed to do or not.”

Jost, an ACA supporter, noted that the administration’s decision not to defend the law comes during the season when participating insurers must file their rates for next year with state regulators. It raises new questions about whether insurers still will be required to charge the same prices to all customers, healthy or sick.

And Topher Spiro, vice president of health policy at the liberal Center for American Progress, said the administration’s legal argument contradicts promises by Trump that he would not tamper with the ACA’s protections for people with preexisting medical conditions.

University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley, another ACA defender, went even further in a blog post. “If the Justice Department can just throw in the towel whenever a law is challenged in court, it can effectively pick and choose which laws should remain on the books,” he wrote. “That’s not a rule of law I recognize. That’s a rule by whim. And it scares me.”

See here for the background. The fact that three Justice Department attorneys withdrew from the case rather than be party to this decision is what really stands out to me. Those are the people who believe the most strongly in the Justice Department’s mission. That’s about as loud a statement as they could make.

There’s a coalition of states that was granted standing to the litigation, and they filed a brief in response, so it’s not like the ACA is on its own in the courtroom. But if you’re someone with a pre-existing condition, which is one of the things that is at stake here, or you know someone who has one – and there are some 130 million people who fall into that bucket – then this is what this action means to you. If you need health insurance, the Trump administration and its enablers like Ken Paxton are working to take it away from you. I don’t know about you, but I want to hear a lot more about this between now and Election Day. Washington Monthly, Daily Kos, ThinkProgress, Mother Jones, the Observer, and the Trib have more.

More on the Texans’ cheerleader lawsuit

Here’s a story in Vanity Fair about the second lawsuit filed against the Houston Texans by a group of former cheerleaders, who allege wage theft and harassment, among other things. The tale is from the perspective of plaintiff Gabriella Davis, and much of it focuses on the lousy treatment she and her fellow cheerleaders got from the team and specifically its longtime cheerleading director, Altovise Gary. I encourage you to read all that, but I want to highlight the matters relating to money:

Davis said the cheerleaders were frequently reminded that they were replaceable: “We were told, ‘There’s another girl who will do it for free,’” she said.

But they practically did that themselves.

According to both Davis and a copy of the 2017-2018 Texans cheerleader contract, cheerleaders were making $7.25 per hour, the state’s minimum wage, or approximately $1,500 per season. The employment agreement stipulates that the cheerleaders are hired as part-time employees (by day, some were college students, lawyers, or worked in P.R.). But Davis, as well as her former teammates who are suing the Texans, argued that Gary warned them upfront that they would be “part-time employees with full-time hours.” Their time commitment included games, practices, and a required 50 team-sponsored promotional appearances during the season. The cheerleaders said they were not paid overtime for hours of work outside of cheering, including selling calendars and meeting fans after games, plus daily social-media requirements, which included tweeting from the official cheerleader handle and following hundreds of people on Twitter in order to boost the account’s following.

See here and here for the background. The “we can replace you with someone who’d do this for free” attitude is pervasive, and is right there in the comments on the Chron story about the more recent lawsuit. You want to talk about “economic anxiety”, I’m here to say there would be a whole lot less of it if people didn’t internalize that message. I have a hard time understanding why anyone would side with the multi-billion dollar entity that could easily afford to pay these women a salary that’s actually commensurate with the work they do and the value they add. I’m rooting for the courts to see it the same way, but ultimately what we need is better legislation to improve working life for all of us. Here are statements from the plaintiffs and a statement from the Texans on this case. I’m sure we have not seen the last of these in the league.

Are you nostalgic for some strip club litigation?

Then this is your lucky day.

The legal fight over the striptease business in Houston has heated up, again.

Two topless bars are suing the city of Houston over a controversial, years-old legal settlement they say unfairly hampers business at all but a select group of clubs.

In a June 1 filing, lawyers for Chicas Cabaret and Penthouse Houston argued that the 2013 settlement — which allowed sixteen strip clubs to skirt the city’s sexually-oriented business ordinance by making annual payments to fund an anti-human trafficking unit in the Houston Police Department — amounts to a commercial bribery scheme.

The two north Houston clubs argue the settlement is “unlawful, unfair, and anti-competitive in nature,” and impacted their ability to do business.

“Our position is that discriminating against some clubs and showing favoritism towards others is just plain wrong under the Constitution and Texas law,” said Spencer Markle, attorney for Chicas Cabaret and Penthouse Houston. “That’s why we’re taking them to task.”

The strip clubs are seeking a restraining order that would either prevent city officials from allowing the “sweet 16” clubs to avoided the city’s sexually-oriented business ordinance, or allow Chicas and Penthouse to join the agreement under the same terms.

“We just don’t want to be at a business disadvantage compared to the other clubs that are similarly situated,” Markle said.

[…]

Legal experts said the city’s recent settlement with Fantasy Plaza and the new lawsuits raised renewed questions about the city’s sexually-oriented business ordinance and the way it regulates sexually oriented businesses.

“Why is the city keeping an the ordinance on the books and basically exempting (businesses) from it?” said Josh Blackman, a professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston. “Normally the point of a statute is to enforce it equally. And if they’re just cutting deals with every strip club that asks for it, just repeal the damn statute.”

Markle’s suit echoes the same argument made by lawyers for Fantasy Plaza Cabaret when they sued the city of Houston earlier this year.

See here, here, and here for the background on the 2013 litigation. I thought that settlement was reasonable enough, but I can’t think of a good rebuttal to the argument that if this deal is available to some clubs, it should be available to all of them. I look forward to seeing how this gets resolved.

Final instructions in bail practices lawsuit

We may finally be nearing a conclusion in this matter.

A year after a landmark ruling that upended Harris County’s bail system, a federal appeals court Friday issued final instructions for a Houston judge to craft a revised plan for releasing poor people who qualify after arrests for low-level offenses.

Lawyers on both sides of the contentious two-year lawsuit hailed the ruling Friday as a victory, and the county said it offered a solid template for a final settlement.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, who issued an injunction last year halting longstanding bail practices, set a new hearing June 14 for both sides to begin hammering out a detailed plan.

A New Orleans appeals court Friday rejected the county’s requests to halt or alter portions of the historic 2017 ruling in which Rosenthal found the county’s bail process violated constitutional rights to equal protection and due process, subjecting poor people to what termed “wealth-based detention.” The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals handed the case back to Rosenthal to begin implementing adjustments to her order addressing the release of misdemeanor defendants who don’t have holds or detainers.

“Harris County has been working diligently to improve the criminal justice system,” said Robert Soard, first assistant to Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan. “The county remains committed to a settlement that maximizes the number of misdemeanor detainees who are eligible for prompt release from jail without secured bail, that provides due regard for the rights of victims and protection of the community, and preserves the independence of the judiciary.”

But the court denied several requests from the county for immediate changes to Rosenthal’s order. Neal Manne, one of the attorneys for the indigent defendants, said he was delighted the court amended its ruling the way his legal team requested.

“We went 3-for-3 today, which is usually done only by Jose Altuve,” he said.

See here for the background. All I can say is that if everyone feels like they won in this ruling, then everyone should feel like they’re in a good position to negotiate a final agreement, and that maybe there aren’t that many points of disagreement left to dicker over. Perhaps we’ll find out on June 14. It is long past time for this matter to be resolved, and for a better and more just system to be implemented.

More Census litigation

Also good.

The Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus are suing the Trump administration in hopes of blocking the addition of a citizenship question to the once-a-decade census of every person living in the United States.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in a Maryland-based federal court, the Texas-based groups allege that the addition of the controversial question is unconstitutional because it will lead to a disproportionate undercount of Latino and Asian residents, non-citizens and their family members.

That undercount would endanger billions of dollars tied to social services funding and deprive those individuals of equal representation in the U.S. House and during the redrawing of political boundaries that follows each census count, the plaintiffs allege.

[…]

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of more than a dozen plaintiffs — including several Texas-based nonprofits that advocate for Latino residents and legislative Latino caucuses out of Arizona, Maryland and California — who say they are seeking to “preserve the integrity” of the census count.

The Trump administration’s “inclusion of a citizenship question in the 2020 decennial Census is arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law,” the plaintiffs wrote in their filing.

They specifically allege that the inclusion of the citizenship question violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause because it is “motivated by racial animus” toward Latinos, Asians, non-citizens and immigrants. They also argue that the court should act to prevent the undercount that would result from the addition of the question, which would amount to a violation of the Enumerations and Apportionment Clauses.

A coalition of cities and states had previously filed a lawsuit for the same reasons. It can’t hurt to get more irons in the fire on this, given the stakes and the fact that our morally bankrupt Attorney General has no interest in opposing this harmful idea. Given the timing, we’re going to need to start seeing some rulings soon for any of this to matter. I’ll keep an eye out.

Second group of cheerleaders sues the Texans

Different group, same basic complaints.

Hannah Turnbow spent the 2017 NFL season wearing a bright smile and a Texans cheerleaders uniform, dancing on the field, waving pompons on the sideline, meeting fans in NRG Stadium suites and concourses and attending team-related functions as a Texans brand ambassador.

Friday, however, Turnbow was reduced briefly to tears as she described how she and four other former cheerleaders were underpaid, browbeaten, threatened and, in her case, attacked by a fan and told by team officials to “suck it up” when she complained.

Turnbow, who spent one season as a Texans cheerleader, is the lead plaintiff in the second lawsuit in two weeks that accuses the team of violating federal labor laws and minimum-wage regulations.

The suit was filed in Houston federal court by Houston attorney Kimberly Spurlock and by noted women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred, who said she plans to deliver a letter stating the cheerleaders’ case Monday to the office of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in New York.

“We’re not arguing with the concept of whether there should be cheerleaders or not,” Allred said. “But we are asserting that if there are cheerleaders, they should not be exploited in their wages or in any of the terms of their working conditions.”

[…]

Dallas has long been the center of NFL cheerleader culture, since the Cowboys in the early 1970s adopted the dance team format that the Texans and other NFL teams use, and Androvett said the Cowboys would be a lesser product without the allure and marketing attraction that cheerleaders have provided for more than 40 years.

“Football fans have wives and daughters. Women are big consumers. They are a force to be reckoned with,” Androvett said. “Why wouldn’t you reach out to women and say if there’s a wrong, let’s right it. You can do that in a way that doesn’t incur legal liability.”

By not dealing with complaints by cheerleaders over pay and working conditions, the NFL also faces potential damage in the wake of the “#metoo” awareness movement of sexual assault and harassment.

“People will say it’s like being in Hollywood: there are things you buy into in exchange for all the opportunities that are presented to you,” he said. “But Hollywood is a great analogy. We all realize now that not everything goes.

“If I were the NFL, I would try to get in front of this and communicate that cheerleaders are part of the NFL experience and to treat them in a way that suggest you believe that.

Also, as franchises become more valuable in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that could lead to increased sports gambling, “it’s not a good optic for the NFL when you have a class of women who are trying to get paid based on $7.25 per hour,” Androvett added.

See here for more about the other lawsuit. It really is a matter of paying them a fair amount for their labor, and treating them with a sufficient level of respect. Frankly, the NFL could do a better job of that with their players, too, but at least they have the right to collectively bargain for those things. I’m rooting for the plaintiffs in both of these cases. Think Progress has more.

Fifth Circuit does its thing in the motor voter case

The sky is blue, water is wet, and the Fifth Circuit does what the state of Texas asks it to do.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas will not be required to meet a 45-day deadline to implement online voter registration for drivers — for now.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday temporarily blocked a lower court ruling that mandated a voter registration system that would allow drivers to register to vote when they renew their driver’s licenses online. The requirement was part of U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia’s ruling that Texas was violating a federal voter registration law — also known as the “Motor Voter Act” — that’s meant to ease the voter registration process.

Pointing to registration deadlines for the November election, Garcia ordered the state to create the online system — the first mechanism for online voter registration in the state — in order to comply with the Motor Voter Act, which requires states to allow people to register to vote while getting their driver’s licenses.

Last week, the state appealed to the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit, which put Garcia’s ruling on hold during the appeals process. That appeal could drag out for months, leaving uncertain whether the online system will be in place ahead of this fall’s elections.

See here for the background. Seems optimistic to me to think there might be a chance of a resolution in time for this election, but I suppose anything is possible. I have to ask, when was the last time the state was denied an injunction for a ruling that went against them? I can’t off the top of my head think of a recent example of the Fifth Circuit not giving them excellent customer service. I can’t even think of a reason why this might surprise me. The Chron has more.

Harris County hearing officers sue to overturn their conduct sanction

An interesting twist.

Three Harris County hearing officers have sued the State Commission on Judicial Conduct in an attempt to overturn their discipline for denying personal recognizance bonds to misdemeanor defendants, contending that the agency overstepped its authority by interpreting law in meting out punishment.

Eric Hagstette, Joseph Licata III and Jill Wallace are Harris County criminal law hearing officers who assist elected state district judges with initial criminal court hearings that advise criminal defendants of their rights, set money bail and determine whether the accused are eligible for release on a personal bond.

All three of the hearing officers were issued public admonitions by the Judicial Conduct Commission in January after it found that they failed to comply with the law in strictly following directives from state district judges to refrain from issuing personal bonds to defendants.

[…]

The commission noted that it gave weight to the hearing officers’ arguments that they feared for their jobs if they didn’t obey orders from state district judges to deny personal bonds to defendants. Nevertheless, the commission determined the hearing officers had violated their constitutional and statutory obligations to consider all legally available bonds when they denied personal recognizance bonds to defendants.

In a recent petition filed in a Harris County state district court, the hearing officers argue that the commission exceeded its mandate in issuing the disciplinary actions based on its own interpretation of the law, rather than on well-settled law.

“All courts to have considered this question have agreed: The commission is not permitted to interpret the law and then find a violation. Yet that is precisely what the commission has done here,” the hearing officers’ petition alleges. “It has been nearly thirty years since the commission’s authority has been examined in Texas; this case presents an important and rare opportunity to reaffirm that the commission may not interpret Texas law and to ensure that the Commission is not allowed to exceed its mandate.”

Sen. John Whitmire filed the complaint that led to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct disciplining the hearing officers. I didn’t note when that decision was handed down, but a month after that we had testimony that the misdemeanor court judges violated state judicial conduct rules themselves by ordering the magistrates to deny bail. If this action were about setting that record straight I’d be firmly in the corner of the magistrates, but this looks to be about the role of the Commission, which interests me a lot less. Nonetheless, I suspect there’s some potential for more dirty laundry to be aired, and I am here for that.

State asks for emergency stay of “motor voter” ruling

Also as expected.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday asked a federal appeals court to block a San Antonio judge’s order that gave state officials 45 days to correct an online voter registration system that was found to violate federal law.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia on Monday ordered officials to create a process that lets Texans simultaneously register to vote when they obtain or renew a driver’s license on the Department of Public Safety website. The current system violates the National Voter Registration Act’s motor-voter provision by adding several hurdles to the registration process, the judge ruled.

Paxton quickly informed the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that he intends to challenge Garcia’s order.

[…]

Paxton’s filing argued that Garcia added requirements that are not included in federal law, such as ordering state officials to create a public-education campaign to explain the new voter-registration process.

In addition, Paxton argued that the three voters who sued lacked standing because they were already registered to vote when their lawsuit was filed in 2016.

He also complained that Garcia gave state officials only 45 days to make the changes, saying the state’s current online vendor could not complete changes before its contract expires Sept. 1, and the new vendor would need 90 days to create a process.

See here for the background. The next scene in this movie that we’ve all seen before is the Fifth Circuit giving Paxton what he wants, and then we wait for the appeals process to play out. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Opioid lawsuits

From last week:

Attorney General Ken Paxton is leading Texas into a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma for exacerbating the opioid crisis among Texans.

In an announcement Tuesday afternoon, Paxton, a Republican, flanked by several assistant attorney generals, said the state is taking the drug maker to court for misrepresenting the risks of opioid addiction.

“We must make those who have caused the opioid crisis feel the pain that they have inflicted on our community,” Paxton said.

Other states, including Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, North Dakota and Nevada, are also pursuing lawsuits against Purdue.

While the state is planning to sue, Paxton said the main issue now is getting injunctive relief from the courts so that Purdue will have to stop misrepresenting their drugs.

The lawsuit comes as more states, cities and counties across the United States are turning to the courts as they grapple with how to hold drug makers and distributors accountable amid a harrowing — and growing — epidemic that led to more than 42,000 opioid overdoses in 2016. Main culprits in the public health crisis include prescription painkillers, such as Hydrocodone, OxyContin and the synthetic drug fentanyl, and heroin.

[…]

Paxton’s office wrote in a May 10 letter to the Texas Supreme Court that it planned to file a lawsuit under the state’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The consumer protection statute forbids companies from misrepresenting themselves or their products to Texans. Examples of misrepresentation include false or misleading advertising, exaggerating or misrepresenting the benefits or endorsements of a product or service, making false statements about the manufacture or origin of a product, passing off used products as new ones and price gouging.

Paxton said he’s leading Texas to sue Purdue for several reasons including for lying to doctors and patients about the possibility of increasing opioid dosages without risk, falsely representing that common signs of addiction are signs the patient needs higher opioid dosages and misrepresenting the risk of becoming addicted to the company’s abuse-deterrent formulation OxyContin.

Later in the week, Bexar County followed suit.

Bexar County on Thursday filed a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors that it says are responsible for the “tremendous expense” and devastating local impact endured as a result of the addiction epidemic.

“As of today we know that in San Antonio 100 residents have died annually from overdosing on opioids,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said at a press conference at the County courthouse.

Filed in state district court, the lawsuit follows commissioners’ resolution in October to pursue litigation against more than 50 companies, including Johnson and Johnson, Teva Pharmaceutical, and Purdue Pharma, the maker of the synthetic opioid OxyContin.

“These manufacturers and distributors did not only put opioids into the market,” Martin Phipps, a lawyer with Phipps Anderson Deacon, said at a press conference Wednesday. They also advertised opioids directly to the military and specific populations and misled prescribers regarding potential for addiction and other long-term health complications, including brain and liver damage, he explained.

The firm is working with local law firm Watts Guerra to bring the lawsuit forward on the County’s behalf.

The city of San Antonio may join in later in the year. Dallas County was ahead of the curve.

Dallas County sued a slew of drug companies and doctors this week over their alleged roles in the deadly opioid epidemic, joining dozens of other governments nationwide that have launched court battles.

The 59-page claim filed Monday in Dallas County court accuses at least 11 pharmaceutical companies — including Purdue Pharma, which makes the bestselling painkiller OxyContin — and three local doctors of knowingly pushing addictive drugs on patients while claiming they were safe. The three doctors have all been convicted of illegal “pill mill” over-prescription practices.

“While using opioids has taken an enormous toll on Dallas County and its residents, defendants have realized blockbuster profits,” the lawsuit said. “In 2014 alone, opioids generated $11 billion in revenue for drug companies like defendants.”

[…]

County Judge Clay Jenkins said the goal of the lawsuit is to recoup some of the money that the county has had to pay for medical care and substance abuse treatment at Parkland Memorial Hospital, as well as responses by law enforcement and the jail. The suit is seeking actual and punitive damages, without specifying a number.

“When a large swath of your population becomes addicted to drugs, it’s not just them — it’s a loss of productivity, an increase in criminal activity, the jail cost associated with this — it just hits you across the board,” Jenkins said. “Taxpayers feel all of that.”

I have to assume that Harris County and the city of Houston are looking into this as well. Perhaps a reporter ought to inquire about that. Other states and localities around the country blazed the trail last year. This may all seem far-fetched, but one need only look back at the litigation filed against tobacco companies in the 90s to see the possibilities. At some level, this is what tort law and the civil courts are all about. And when you read about the family that has been raking in millions of dollars from all this, you might think it’s about time someone did something about it.

Former cheerleaders file lawsuit against Texans over pay

I’d been wondering if something like this was going to happen here.

Three former Texans cheerleaders sued the team and its cheerleading supervisor Tuesday, accusing the Texans of failing to pay minimum wage and overtime and accusing the cheer squad director of body-shaming and failing to act on complaints that cheerleaders were physically assaulted by fans.

The former cheerleaders, who were on the squad for the 2017 season, are seeking class action status, which would include all Texans cheerleaders for the last three years who also complain of similar treatment by the Texans and their cheerleader director, Altovise Gary.

The suit against the Texans and Gary, filed in Houston federal court, joins a growing list of legal actions in which former NFL cheerleaders complain about pay, safety issues and working conditions.

“I have been a season-ticket holder since 2002. My name is engraved on the glass outside NRG Stadium,” said former cheerleader Paige G., who is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It was always a goal of mine to get on the team, and I thought this is so great that now I get to cheer for the team that I love.

“It was really unfortunate that we were treated with such disrespect.”

Paige G. claims in the lawsuit that while she was paid $7.25 per hour for a set number of hours each week, she did not receive overtime for team-imposed email monitoring and social media requirements and for other “off-the-clock” job-related duties, including gym workouts, spray tans before games and events and required attendance at other team functions and autograph sessions.

“One of the most famous quotes from (Gary) is that this was a part-time job with full-time hours,” she said. “We signed up for a part-time job that didn’t require more than 30 hours a week. If you’re going to make it full-time hours, make it a full-time job. I would be happy to do that.”

The suit also accuses Gary, described in the document as “Coach Alto,” of harassing and intimidating behavior and of cutting Paige G. and other cheerleaders from the squad in April after they sought improved working conditions.

Others may join in as plaintiffs, and they will seek class certification, assuming Neil Gorsuch hasn’t made that illegal. We have seen a number of lawsuits like this filed by other teams’ cheerleaders in recent years, some with truly appalling fact sets. Several teams have paid out settlements, and I suspect that is what will eventually happen here. Seems to me the right thing for the teams to do is to pay their cheerleaders a fair wage for their labor and to generally treat them with a minimum level of respect. But this is the NFL, and that’s not the way they do business, so off to the courts they go. I know who I’m cheering for.

Buc-ee’s wins in court

That was quick.

After about six hours of deliberation, a jury in Houston found Tuesday that Choke Canyon company’s alligator logo violated state and federal trademark law, infringing on the pre-established Buc-ee’s beaver mark established by the popular Texas road stop chain.

“It’s absolutely not about a beaver versus an alligator,” said Jeff Nadalo, general counsel for Buc-ee’s Ltd. “There are more than 10 similarities between the two marks that we presented to the jury in this case.”

[…]

The judge asked the lawyers to meet and try to hammer out an injunction on how to deal of trademarked materials that violate the jury’s finding.

The damages phase of the trial remains pending.

See here for the background, and here for a later version of the story. Six hours of deliberation for a week-long trial is pretty darned quick. I may have been skeptical based on my view of the two logos, but I wasn’t there in court and neither were you. We’ll see what the damages look like.

State appeals “motor voter” ruling

No surprise.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The legal fight over whether Texas is disenfranchising thousands of voters by violating a federal voter registration law is on its way to federal appeals court.

Just after a federal judge gave Texas less than two months to implement a limited version of online voter registration, the state on Monday formally notified U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia that it was appealing his finding that Texas was violating the law — also known as the “Motor Voter Act” — by failing to allow drivers to register to vote when they renew their driver’s licenses online.

Pointing to registration deadlines for the November election, Garcia created a 45-day deadline for the state to create the online system for drivers in order to comply with the federal law that requires states to allow people to register to vote while getting their drivers licenses.

[…]

The AG’s office tried to defend the state’s practice of directing drivers to the secretary of state’s website. But Garcia ruled that practice “is not enough” and violates the Motor Voter Act and the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause by treating voters who deal with their driver’s licenses online differently than those who register in person.

The state had also argued that there are technological difficulties associated with online voter registration even in this narrow form, particularly because state law requires a signature when an individual registers to vote. But Garcia also dismissed that argument because the state already keeps an electronic signature on file.

The state’s “excuse for noncompliance is not supported by the facts or the law,” Garcia said in his ruling.

See here and here for the background. I figure the first order of business will be for the state to try to get the Fifth Circuit to put this on hold pending the appeal. Given that court’s track record of granting such injunctions whenever the state comes knocking, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that online system to come about. The Chron has more.

Beaver v alligator

It’s a roadside rest stop animal logo legal smackdown, and it’s off to the jury.

Buc-ee’s, a popular chain of Texas pit stops, fought hard to build its reputation and wants a San Antonio-based competitor to stop “riding its coattails” by using a logo that confuses highway travelers into pulling off at a rival business, the company’s lawyer told jurors in his closing statement Monday in Houston.

“We don’t want to put Choke Canyon out of business,” said Buc-ee’s lawyer, Tracy Richardson, poised between poster boards displaying similarly colored T-shirts, beer koozies and plastic grocery bags with the animal logos from the two rival chains. Buc-ee’s just wants Choke Canyon’s owner to curtail what it views as an unfair ad campaign: “We just want him to stop using the logo.”

Richardson and the lead attorney for Choke Canyon offered closing pitches to jurors before they began deliberations Monday afternoon, following a week of testimony about the dueling roadside travel centers in a federal trademark case before U.S. District Judge Keith P. Ellison. The jury of three women and nine men will resume deliberations Tuesday.

The lawsuit brought by mega-chain Buc-ee’s claims that Choke Canyon’s alligator logo, posed against a circular yellow backdrop, is too similar to the buck-toothed beaver that is synonymous with its 33 gas stops. The Buc-ee’s chain, headquartered in Lake Jackson, also contends that Choke Canyon illegally mimicked its in store offerings, including friendly service, ample stock and plentiful, clean bathrooms.

[…]

[Defense attorney Charles] Hanor said the two trademarks are quite different, as are the offerings. The alligator is advertising a chain that specializes in barbecue, he told jurors, noting that Buc-ee’s only complained in court about its road stop competitor when Choke Canyon sought to open a chain in New Braunfels, where Buc-ee’s also had operations.

Trademark law doesn’t give either company a hold on any one attribute of their logo. Instead, the jury will consider the strength of Buc-ee’s logo, the similarity between the two logos and the stores’ product lines and whether Choke Canyon set out to or actually did confuse customers with the overlap.

It’s a balancing act, the judge explained in his directions to the jury. The goals of trademark law are to protect the public from being misled, to protect the rights of businesses to identify themselves in public and to protect the public interest in fair competition, Ellison said.

See here for some background. Earlier stories from the trial are here, here, and here. As I said when news of the lawsuit first appeared, I think Buc-ee’s is stretching it here. Maybe it’s because I’ve never seen a Choke Canyon, but I don’t see how a reasonable person could confuse the two. That’s up to twelve jurors here in Houston to decide. I wish them luck.

Add taekwando to the list of problematic sports

Also a sport with local ties.

Last week, four female USA Taekwondo (USAT) athletes filed a joint lawsuit against the USOC and USAT, alleging that the two organizations engaged in sex trafficking by forcing its athletes — including minor females — to travel and train with sexual predators.

According to the lawsuit, officials in both organizations knew about allegations of rape and sexual assault against brothers Jean and Steven Lopez, who are commonly referred to as the “First Family of Taekwondo,” as far back as 1996. And yet, the organizations allegedly failed to either investigate or punish the Lopez brothers, or protect the minor female athletes who were forced to train and go on international trips with these men if they wanted to follow their Olympic dreams.

“The USOC knowingly trafficked these girls to obtain medals and money, time and again,” Jon Little, one of the attorneys representing the women, said in a statement obtained by the Indy Star.

The USOC’s role in the systemic sexual abuse of athletes has been under the microscope lately, owing to the fallout from the sexual abuse of more than 250 girls and women at the hands former Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics, and USOC doctor Larry Nassar. Many of Nassar’s victims have filed lawsuits against the USOC for enabling Nassar’s abuse, and failing to prioritize the protection of its athletes.

This suit will hardly help the USOC rebuild its tarnished reputation. It specifically alleges that current interim CEO of the USOC, Susanne Lyons, as well as four other current top USOC officials “had knowledge of the numerous complaints of rape and sexual assault made by female taekwondo athletes against both Lopez brothers” but all declined to take pro-active steps to ensure that the athletes would be free from harm.

[…]

Essentially, the allegations center around two brothers, Jean and Steven Lopez. Jean was Team USA’s taekwondo coach at the 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016 Olympic Summer Games, while Steven was a five-time Olympian and three-time Olympic medalist. Together, they have been the face of USA Taekwondo for the better part of the past two decades.

The lead plaintiff is Mandy Meloon, who the Lopez brothers allegedly began to abuse in 1994, when she moved to the U.S. Olympic Training Center at the age of 13.

There’s a lot more, so go read it. I know I’ve seen a bunch of laudatory stories about the Lopez family in the past, much as there had been many such stories about the Karolyis before the media started cluing into the problems that had existed. Taekwando has a lower profile than gymnastics, so maybe that’s helped keep the Lopezes’ alleged sins out of the public eye. But as with gymnastics and swimming and so many other things, the story is one of victims not being listened to and victimizers not being held accountable. I sure hope we’re learning a lesson from all this, because the price many women have paid for it is really steep. USA Today, CNN, and Deadspin have more.

Dreamers can litigate in support of DACA

Good.

A federal district judge has allowed a group of young undocumented immigrants to intervene in a lawsuit where the state of Texas seeks to put an end to the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

Brownsville-based U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen will allow the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund to represent the group of young “Dreamers,” the common term for young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children and have lived here most of their lives. They argue they would be irreparably harmed if the popular Obama-era program ends. The initiative shields recipients from deportation and allows them a renewable, two-year work permit.

The decision Tuesday comes after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton made good earlier this month on a long-standing promise to sue the Trump administration with the hopes of ending the program, alleging it is unconstitutional. Neither side opposed the intervention, according to a MALDEF press release.

[…]

MALDEF officials have said the intervention is necessary because Texas and the Trump administration are in lockstep in their efforts to see the program eliminated.

“Today’s order of intervention ensures that this case will not go forward as a sweetheart arrangement between non-adversaries who agree with each other on almost every relevant issue,” Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF’s president and general counsel, said in a statement. “Interveners and their counsel will present a vigorous defense of DACA, an initiative in effect for many years and from which Texas and every other state have benefited.”

See here for the background, and here for the MALDEF press release. This is not the first time we’ve seen a group of stakeholders who had not been directly involved in a lawsuit for which the federal government was a party ask to be included because they didn’t have any faith that the Trump Justice Department would litigate in good faith. If there was ever a case for which the affected parties needed vigorous representation, this is it. Here’s hoping for the best.

The “sanctuary cities” connection to the SCOTUS sports betting decision

The state’s rights aspect of this ruling may have other applications.

Seven of the nine justices — five conservatives and two liberals — backed a robust reading of the Constitution’s 10th Amendment and a limit on the federal government’s power to force the states go along with Washington’s wishes.

The federal anti-gambling law is unconstitutional because “it unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his majority opinion. “It’s as if federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals.”

There is a direct link between the court’s decision in the sports betting case and the administration’s effort to punish local governments that resist Trump’s immigration enforcement policies, several legal commentators said.

“The court ruled definitively that the federal government can’t force states to enforce federal law. In the immigration context, this means it can’t require state or local officials to cooperate with federal immigration authorities,” said Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the libertarian Cato Institute.

Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s immigrants’ rights project, said the ruling reinforced decisions from the 1990s, including one that struck down part of a federal gun control law that required local police to determine if buyers were fit to own handguns.

“It reiterates that the real thrust of the 10th Amendment and the principles of law in this area is that the fed government can’t tell the states or cities how to legislate,” Jadwat said. The amendment says that powers not specifically given to the federal government belong to the states.

See here for the background. This is only directly applicable to the feds attempting to force a local government to enforce immigration laws, not to the state trying to do the same to cities or counties. In other words, it’s not really on point for the SB4 litigation, but that doesn’t mean it won’t play a role somehow. At least, that’s my totally uninformed non-lawyer’s guess. Whatever else the case, putting some limits on Jeff Sessions is a good thing. Slate and ThinkProgress have more.

SCOTUS rules for sports betting

Gamblers rejoice.

The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed all states to legalize sports gambling. But a ban in Texas remains in place, and recent history suggests that state leaders will be in no rush to lift it.

The high court ruled on Monday that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992 federal law that barred states from legalizing sports gambling, violates the U.S. Constitution. The ruling was on a New Jersey case born out of the state’s efforts in 2014 to repeal a sports betting ban, allowing the state to regulate such behavior.

“Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority. “Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not.”

[…]

In September, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sided with New Jersey in a 21-state brief on the case, arguing that PAPSA “impermissibly skews the federal-state balance” of power. But it seems that was an argument more for states’ rights to decide about sports gambling than for the practice itself.

PAPSA “tramples on state sovereignty,” Paxton said in November.

Paxton also wrote in a non-binding opinion in January 2016 that fantasy sports sites — which many consider more innocuous than traditional sports betting — are akin to gambling because they involve “partial chance.” The Legislature’s efforts to clarify those distinctions fell flat. State Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, a Laredo Democrat who led that charge, said he plans to file similar legislation again but doesn’t expect the court’s ruling to have immediate impact on his push.

See here for the background. Basically all this amounts to for Texas is one more thing for pro-gambling forces to advocate and have that advocacy fall on deaf ears. There’s no one in state leadership that favors expanded gambling. If this is an important issue to you, that’s where you need to start. The Associated Press and Deadspin have more.

Revisiting online voter registration

Camel’s nose in the tent alert.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas could be forced to create at least one narrow avenue for online voter registration after a federal judge ruled that the state is violating the National Voter Registration Act, a decades-old federal law aimed at making it easier for people to register to vote by forcing states to allow registration while drivers apply for or renew their driver’s licenses.

Texas allows people renew their licenses online, but doesn’t allow them to register to vote at the same time. Last week, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia told the state to fix that.

And while the Texas Attorney General’s Office has said it will appeal that ruling, supporters of online voter registration are hoping that a court-ordered online system for drivers will open the floodgates to broader implementation in Texas.

Once such a system is in place for some, supporters ask, why not broaden it to everyone else?

[…]

Legislation has been raised several times — championed in recent years by state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin — but it has never made it to the governor’s desk.

In 2015, Israel touted bipartisan support for the bill after 75 other state representatives, including more than 20 Republicans, signed on. But in the most recent legislative session, Israel’s proposal hardly gained any traction, even with the endorsement of many of the state’s election officials — tax assessors and voter registrars, election administrators, county clerks and the Texas Association of Counties.

Now, Israel says she is eying a possible online system for drivers as a test run that could help make her case at the Capitol for full-blown online registration.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about online voter registration, and this is a step in the right direction,” Israel said. “The truth of the matter is that online voter registration is more secure than our current paper process, and it is going to save our counties precious time and money.”

The only real opposition to her proposal seems to come from detractors in the populous Harris County. Officials from the Harris County Clerk’s Office have warned that online voter registration could leave the state vulnerable to voter fraud.

See here and here for the background. Don’t get too excited about this, because even if this ruling survives appeal and isn’t put on hold for the duration of the case, it’s still a limited implementation of online registration that could be ordered. That’s unlikely to change the opposition that exists, though installing a new Harris County Clerk would help in that regard. We’re going to need a lot more change in the Legislature before we’re likely to get true online voter registration, or really anything to make it easier to register people. Progress is progress and it would be great if we get even this much. I’m just saying we need to keep some perspective on what that would mean.

State ordered to come up with fix for voter registration problems

The clock is ticking.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas has less than a week to tell a federal judge in San Antonio how it will begin complying with the National Voter Registration Act, a decades-old federal law aimed at making it easier for people to register to vote by forcing states to allow registration while drivers apply for or renew their driver’s licenses.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled more than a month ago that Texas was violating the law, sometimes called the Motor Voter Act, by not allowing Texas drivers to register to vote when they update their driver’s license information online. But it wasn’t clear until this week what exactly state officials would have to do to address that — and by when they’d have to do it.

Now, Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project — which sued the state over the issue in 2016, saying Texas’ current system disenfranchised thousands of voters and violated the U.S. Constitution — have until Thursday to propose a detailed fix for the system. After that, Garcia will weigh the proposals and order a remedy.

“Defendants are violating [several sections] of the NVRA and their excuse for noncompliance is not supported by the facts or the law,” Garcia ruled in a strongly-worded 61-page opinion.

Texas Civil Rights Project President Mimi Marziani said her group will fight to get a fix in place in time for voters to register for this fall’s midterm elections. The deadline for Texas’ closest election — May 22 primary runoff races — has already passed.

The Texas Civil Rights Project has offered to work with the state to submit a remedy both sides can support. The Texas Attorney General’s Office said Friday it was “reviewing the order and weighing our options.” But a spokesman already pledged last month to appeal Garcia’s ruling.

“We are not surprised by the order … by this particular judge,” spokesman Marc Rylander said at the time. “The Fifth Circuit will not give merit to such judicial activism because Texas voter registration is consistent with federal voter laws.”

But, Marziani said, the state will not have the opportunity to appeal until after Garcia weighs in on the remedies each side proposes.

See here for the background. You’d think this would be a fairly straightforward thing to fix, for the two sides to figure out an acceptable way forward. But this is Texas, and Ken Paxton, and “solutions” and “compromise” are not their thing. So this is just another step in the process until we get to the next appeal. Round and round we go. The Chron has more.

Judge sides with city in term limits lawsuit

The city wins for now, but we all know it’s not over yet.

Politicians at City Hall can continue serving four-year terms — at least for now — after a state district judge sided with the city of Houston Friday in a lawsuit seeking to void the November 2015 election in which voters lengthened elected officials’ terms from two to four years.

The plaintiffs, who plan to appeal, allege former mayor Annise Parker and the City Council misled voters in setting the ballot language for the proposition, which changed the city’s term limits to a maximum of two four-year terms, ending the system of three two-year terms that had been in place since 1991.

Local lawyer and Harris County Department of Education trustee Eric Dick sued, arguing the ballot language obscured the nature of the vote by asking whether voters wanted to “limit the length for all terms,” when, in fact, the change lengthened the maximum term of office from six to eight years. For council members first elected in 2013, the limit is 10 years — one two-year term followed by up to two four-year terms.

Judge Randy Clapp, a Wharton County jurist appointed to hear the case, granted summary judgment for the city on Friday, repeating phrasing he had used at a procedural hearing in the case two years ago, saying the city’s chosen language was “inartful” but not “invalid.”

See here, here, and here for some background. You know how I feel about Eric Dick and Andy Taylor and the bullshit they peddle – and remember, I say that as someone who voted against this referendum – so let’s just slide past that. I suppose I’m encouraged that the Supreme Court refused to intervene last year, but they will still have the last say and we know they don’t have any particular compunctions about overriding the will of Houston’s voters. I will also note that the original lawsuit was filed in November of 2015, a couple of weeks after the referendum was passed, and we just now have a ruling from the district court. We are still some unknowable number of years away from a final decision, and as with the Renew Houston case that final decision may just send the whole thing back to the lower court for a do-over. You see why I find the concept of a pay parity referendum for the firefighters to be so laughable? The lawsuit that will result from that, regardless of the verdict, may not be fully resolved until all of the firefighters who’d be affected by it are retired. The lawyers are warming up in the bullpen for it as we speak.

Dallas Republicans ordered to pay legal costs in their failed ballot access lawsuit

Cue the sad trombone.

The Dallas County Republican Party will have to pay more than $51,000 to Dallas County Democrats for attorney fees incurred in defending the GOP’s attempt to remove dozens of Democrats from election ballots.

In his final order for the case, state District Judge Eric Moyé ordered the plaintiffs to pay Democrats for the work of three lawyers in the case. The bulk of the $51,600 — more than $32,000 — was awarded to the Dallas County Democratic Party to pay its lawyer in the case, Randy Johnston. The action came after Moyé dismissed the case late last month.

“This is totally a self-inflicted wound on the Republican Party,” Johnston said Monday. “I told them from the start this was a fatally flawed, frivolous lawsuit, but no one would listen. They attacked the trial judge, they attacked the Democratic Party Chair, and they attacked 127 qualified candidates. And they lost it all. Totally self-inflicted and they have no one to blame but themselves.”

Elizabeth Alvarez Bingham, the lawyer for the Dallas County GOP, said she had not seen Moyé’s order. She said state law “exempts us from attorney fee awards because we used a public figure” to file the case. Missy Shorey, the Dallas County GOP party chair, was the plaintiff.

Bingham, who earlier argued unsuccessfully that Moyé should be removed from the case because he recused himself on another ballot challenge, said she was told she had until Monday to argue against her client having to pay lawyer fees.

See here for the background. Good luck with those arguments, Dallas GOP, which did file a response and will get a hearing on Monday for the judge to reconsider. I admit it made me sweat for awhile, but this lawsuit was just too clever by half. The people that filed it deserve their fate. The Dallas Observer has more.

Of course Ken Paxton opposes the sick leave ordinance

He wouldn’t be Ken Paxton if he didn’t.

Best mugshot ever

Less than a week after a conservative think tank sued Austin over the city’s paid sick leave ordinance, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has thrown the state’s support behind the suit, calling the ordinance “unlawful.”

According to a statement, Paxton filed court papers with a Texas state district court in Travis County on Tuesday. He argues in the filing that setting the minimum wage, which includes the minimum amount of paid time off, is a decision strictly entrusted to the Texas Legislature.

“The Austin City Council’s disdain and blatant disregard for the rule of law is an attempt to unlawfully and inappropriately usurp the authority of the state lawmakers chosen by Texas voters and must be stopped,” said Paxton, a Republican.

Paxton said the Texas Minimum Wage Act enacted by the Legislature was a “single, uniform policy for the entire state” — and made no requirement of employers to provide paid time off. He also said the law prevents cities from passing a different rule because they disagree with the state law.

See here for the background. Seems to me Paxton’s assertions are matters for the court to decide, but whatever. No one has ever accused Ken Paxton of being a towering legal intellect. The courts are gonna decide what they decide, but if this is a fine point of state law, then I would just note that state law can be changed. That will require a wholesale change of state lawmakers, but it would accomplish the task. Whatever the courts do say, in the end we have the power to make the law say something else. The Observer has more.

Paxton sues to end DACA

This guy, I swear.

Best mugshot ever

Following through on a months-old promise, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit Tuesday to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, leading a seven-state coalition against an Obama-era immigration measure that protects hundreds of thousands of immigrants nationwide from deportation, including more than 120,000 in Texas.

Paxton first threatened in June 2017 to sue over the program if President Donald Trump’s administration had not ended it by September. After federal court rulings blocked the Trump administration’s efforts to end the program, Paxton wrote in January that he would consider filing suit if DACA still stood in June.

But a recent ruling in favor of DACA seems to have shifted up Paxton’s timeline. The announcement comes exactly a week after a federal judge in Washington, D.C. ordered the Trump administration to continue the program and reopen it to new applicants. That was the third — and by far the strongest — rebuke of Trump’s efforts to rescind the program. Judges in California and New York had previously ordered the administration to renew work permits for immigrants enrolled in the program.

[…]

Liberal groups and lawmakers quickly condemned Paxton’s lawsuit, with state Rep. Rafael Anchia calling it “not only bad policy, it’s bad politics.”

“Instead of wasting taxpayer funds to pick on these Americans without status, the Attorney General should join the bipartisan chorus calling on Congress to fix a broken immigration system that denies these kids their rightful place at the American table,” said Anchia, a Dallas Democrat who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

Ending the program would cost Texas more than 100,000 workers and nearly billions of dollars in GDP losses, MALC said in a press release. Ending DACA will lead to “the separation of countless families,” said Cristina Tzintzun, the founder of Jolt Texas, a new group working to mobilize young Latino voters.

Paxton warned Tuesday that conceding the presidential power to establish a program like DACA sets a dangerous precedent that could allow executives to “ignore the will of the people” and set their own policies on a long list of policy points. Paxton also criticized “activist judges” in federal court for keeping in place an “unconstitutional” law.

See here for some background. There really is no dimension along which destroying DACA is a good idea, not that such things matter to the likes of Paxton. DACA also polls really well, including among Republicans, which may be why Paxton could only round up five co-conspirators this time. And you know, the guy who goes court-shopping for nationwide injunctions against laws he doesn’t like can take that “activist judges” crap and stick it where the sun don’t shine. I never thought I’d want to see someone get convicted of a felony more than I wanted to see Tom DeLay get convicted of a felony, but I really really want to see Ken Paxton get convicted of a felony. The Chron and RG Ratcliffe have more.