Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

May 4th, 2017:

Justice Department will send election monitors to Pasadena


Pasadena City Council

The U.S. Department of Justice is monitoring the Pasadena city elections as the suburb faces mounting federal scrutiny in the wake of a federal judge’s ruling that the city intentionally violated the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against Hispanics.

Two observers will be present to ensure the Saturday elections are conducted smoothly, said C. Robert Heath, an attorney representing the city in the voting rights case.

But he said he didn’t know who asked for them, what their specific charge would be and which polling locations may be watched.

“They’re observers, and make sure everything goes right,” Heath said. “The city is happy to cooperate and we don’t have anything to hide.”

He said the city has already received preclearance from the Justice Department for its election contract with Harris County and for changes to polling locations that he described as “very minor.”


The justice department’s decision to use observers for the election drew praise from advocates for the city’s Hispanic voters.

“This week’s election is an important opportunity for all Pasadena voters, especially Latinos, to have their voices heard in selecting candidates to represent their interests and needs,” said Nina Perales with the the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and lead attorney in the voting rights lawsuit. “MALDEF welcomes the U.S. Department of Justice, along with other observers who will watch this historic vote.”

Mayoral candidates Pat Van Houte and Gloria Gallegos, whose campaign sent out a press release about this item on Tuesday, are both quoted in the story with positive reactions to the news. I don’t know what to make of this any more than anyone else, but it can’t hurt to have some outside experts keeping an eye on things. Jeff Sessions is an evil troll, but there are still plenty of good rank and file people in the Justice Department. One hopes there will be nothing particularly interesting for them to observe.

Why won’t the county settle the damn bail lawsuit?

Lisa Falkenberg asks the same question I’ve been asking.

Now that Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal – it should be noted, a Republican appointee — levelled her devastating assessment of Harris County’s rigid bail system a few days ago, ordering county officials to cease practices that violate misdemeanor defendants’ rights to due process and equal protection, you’d think the elected officials who hold the purse strings would admit the futility of fighting the lawsuit and stop funding this exercise in fiscal irresponsibility.

So, why doesn’t the county just settle the lawsuit, and put the money it is spending on lawyers to better use?

I got a surprising answer when I raised that question with the office of Ed Emmett, the county’s chief executive.

“We have consistently been told by the county attorney’s office that the other side does not want to settle,” Emmett said.

The county attorney is Vince Ryan, whose office represents county officials in legal matters. The “other side” is the plaintiffs: two civil rights groups –Texas Fair Defense Project and Civil Rights Corps – and local law firm Susman Godfrey.

Emmett’s spokesman, Joe Stinebaker, said that while commissioners decide whether to keep funding the county’s defense, they can only decide “based on honest and full advice of the county attorney’s office.”

OK. But why would the civil rights groups and a law firm working pro bono to improve the system refuse to settle? Could that be true?

“That’s totally false,” said Neal Manne of Susman Godfrey. “Anyone who claims it’s impossible to settle or we were not willing to settle either has mistaken information or is intentionally not telling the truth.”


Thoroughly confused, I reached out to the county attorney’s office. First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard promptly responded. I asked him if his office had really been recommending to Emmett and other commissioners not to settle because the other side wasn’t interested.

“I guess I can’t comment on that because you’re getting into settlement talks and we’re not allowed to talk about that,” he said.

He did offer an observation: “It takes two parties to settle a case. We can make offers, we can make suggestions but unless they’re accepted, there can’t be a settlement.”

Well, yes. But failure to agree to specific terms of a settlement is very different from refusing to settle at all. I told Soard about Karakatsanis’ offer to settle if the county would just abide by Rosenthal’s ruling. At this point, it could save the county millions in legal fees.

“If they make an honest promise and put it in writing we’ll certainly look at it,” Soard said. He noted that although his office can recommend a settlement, it can’t mandate one; all the county officials named as defendants would have to agree.

You know where I stand on this. Like Falkenberg, I’m not sure who’s blowing smoke here. The one thing I would push back on is the notion that Commissioners Court merely approves or denies the requests to fund the county’s defense. Our commissioners are a lot more invested in this case than that, and as we have clearly seen, at least two of them (Radack and Cagle) don’t appear to be willing to give up the fight. I would want to know more about what the Commissioners – other than Rodney Ellis, who has been quite vocal about not supporting any more expenditures on the lawsuit – ave been saying and doing. They themselves may not be the clients in this lawsuit, but they sure do wield some influence.

And now we have this.

A new settlement offer is on the table in the high-stakes federal lawsuit over Harris County’s bail system in the face of a judge’s ruling that poor people are wrongly kept behind bars because they can’t post cash bail.

The offer comes less than 24 hours after County Judge Ed Emmett told the Chronicle that he’d been informed repeatedly by the county attorney’s office that the lawsuit couldn’t be settled because attorneys for the inmates were unwilling to reach a deal.

The comments brought an immediate offer to the county from a lawyer representing misdemeanor suspects: Agree to the terms outlined by Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal and the lawsuit can be resolved.

“If they’re willing to settle today, we’re happy to settle, and they could stop spending taxpayer money defending a hopeless cause,” attorney Neal Manne, a managing partner at Susman Godfrey, said Wednesday.


Manne said the settlement offer is just the latest attempt to reach an agreement out of court. He said he submitted the first settlement offer at the county’s request on June 1, which led to two days of mediation in August. After that, the two sides exchanged multiple drafts of proposals, with the final one early this year before the injunction hearing was initially set to begin in February.

First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said Wednesday that settlement discussions had been ongoing prior to the injunction hearing in March and that he was not opposed to further talks since the judge’s ruling.

“I agree with Neal [Manne] that there have been ongoing talks about possible settlements,” he said. “They’ve made offers. We’ve made offers. I don’t know why it’s the county’s fault. Certainly the county is willing to settle on terms that are reasonable. There’s no question about that. And there’s no questions that there have been talks.”

Well OK then. Unless the county believes the judge’s terms are not reasonable, then the framework for a settlement is right there. What’s it going to be, fellas?

Faith leaders against discrimination

More of this, please.

Prayer is a staple of the Texas Capitol, where lawmakers begin each legislative day with an invocation and bowed heads.

But on Wednesday, about 50 faith leaders of various denominations lined the stairs outside the Texas House in protest. Their prayer was silent, but their message was clear: don’t legislate against LGBT Texans in our name.

Singing hymns and holding placards that read “My faith does not discriminate,” the group planned to deliver to lawmakers’ offices a letter signed by more than 200 faith leaders in Texas who oppose various proposals they see as discriminatory against LGBT people. Among those measures are two proposals that would regulate bathroom access for transgender Texans — Senate Bill 6 and House Bill 2899 — that are priority for some Republicans but haven’t progressed in the waning weeks of the legislative session.

“Often the voices of people from faith communities that are heard are voices of judgment and condemnation,”said Rev. Karen Thompson of the Metropolitan Community Church of Austin, whose congregation is mostly made up by LGBT members. “We’re here to say that there is another voice of the faith community that is welcome and encouraged.”

The letter is here, and I applaud those who cared enough to sign it. I mean, I seriously doubt Dan Patrick cares because his debased and degraded version of “faith” bears no resemblance to anything I’d recognize as such, but it’s important to counter the narrative that “Christians” and “pastors” are all on his side. And, you know, this is the objectively correct moral stance to take. I don’t know why “love thy neighbor as thyself” is controversial in this day and age, but there you have it. Note that midnight Monday (i.e., overnight from Sunday) is the deadline for bills to be voted out of committee or die, so this is it for HB2899 and SB6 in the House, modulo the usual amendment shenanigans that we see every biennium. Keep that clock going, y’all.

Texas blog roundup for the week of May 1

The Texas Progressive Alliance has squeezed all the news out of the past week like an $8 juice bag and put it into the roundup for you.