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July 10th, 2017:

Anti-spousal benefits plaintiffs ask for injunction

Ridiculous.

Conservative activists are seeking an injunction blocking Houston from paying same-sex spousal benefits to its municipal employees, after Texas’ Supreme Court ruled last week that gay couples may not be entitled to them.

Attorneys filed a motion Friday in District Court in Harris County, which includes Houston.

They also want to recover public funds that America’s fourth-largest city spent on same-sex spousal benefits since November 2013, though how much such “clawbacks” would be worth is unclear.

See here for the background. I looked for a more detailed version of this story, which hit on Friday afternoon, but couldn’t find one. The Supreme Court decision, ludicrous as it was, merely reinstated the plaintiffs’ lawsuit after it had been dismissed, saying there were questions to be addressed. To argue for an injunction – with clawbacks, no less – is an enormous stretch. The animus radiating from this action is so strong it must be giving Justice Kennedy a migraine. I don’t know how this could possibly go anywhere, but then I thought this was a settled matter back when the Supreme Court initially declined to gt involved. I don’t know what to think any more.

Judicial Conduct commission suspends JP Hilary Green

Bam!

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday issued an order to suspend Harris County Justice of the Peace Hilary Green from office immediately based on allegations that Green illegally abused prescription drugs, sent sexually explicit texts to a bailiff while on the bench and paid for sex.

It’s the first time any Texas judge has received a temporary suspension in at least a decade in a contested matter, the commission says.

The state supreme court had been asked to take the unusual emergency action by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which in May presented a 316-page document in support of an immediate suspension. That document summarized evidence it had collected in its own investigations of previously secret complaints made against Green from 2012 to 2015.

The commission alleged that in its own closed proceedings, Green already had admitted to many allegations against her, including illegally obtaining prescription drugs and using marijuana and Ecstasy while she was presiding over low-level drug possession cases involving juveniles in her south Houston courtroom.

One of the most serious allegations, the commission says, is that Green engaged her “assigned bailiff in an effort to illegally obtain prescription drugs.”

The commission argued that the evidence — and Green’s own admissions — more than justified Green’s immediate removal from her post as a jurist for Harris County Precinct 7, Place 1 while the state watchdog agency prepared for a longer civil trial required under Texas law to remove Green — or any judge — from elected office.

“Judge Green’s outright betrayal of the public’s trust warrants her immediate suspension pending formal proceedings,” the commission had argued.

Green’s attorney, Chip Babcock, argued in a response to the supreme court that voters themselves had a chance to review and “forgive” many of the commission’s allegations, some of which were published in Houston Chronicle stories, before they chose to re-elect Green in 2017.

See here for the background, with the warning that the more you read the more you will want to take a shower afterwards. While a lot of this information was known before the 2016 primary, I’d argue that most, though not all, of it was allegations of behavior that was merely tawdry rather than illegal. As such, I disagree with attorney Babcock that the voters had a chance to “review and forgive” the record. But even if one believes that the voters were sufficiently informed, I don’t see how that mitigates against this suspension or the potential subsequent removal from office. Elections have consequences, but so does criminal behavior. If the Commission votes to remove Judge Green, she can appeal as the process allows, but appealing to the voters as a defense will fall flat to me.

Firefighters petition for a raise

Whatever.

Houston firefighters are launching a campaign to place on item on the November ballot asking voters to mandate parity in pay between corresponding firefighter and police-officer ranks.

The petition drive to amend the city charter, slated to launch Saturday morning, follows the fire union’s decision last month to sue the city over stalled contract talks, alleging Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration failed to negotiate in good faith.

“I don’t know what else to do. We’re trying to find a fair and reasonable solution that affects 4,100 members and their families,” said Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association. “Let’s let the voters decide what’s fair and we’ll see.”

[…]

A 1975 City Council motion did set the goal of achieving parity in the base pay of equivalent ranks in the public safety departments, and the topic spurred regular fights throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Typically, firefighters and their supporters on council were in the position of working to ensure their salaries kept pace with police pay, though they were not always successful.

Parity was regularly mentioned into the mid-2000s, but the late 1998 contract negotiated by the newly recognized police union began to dismantle that system, recalled Mark Clark, executive director of the Houston Police Officers Union.

That police contract, Clark said, began adjusting HPD’s personnel structure so that the city could grant raises to, for example, 38 police captains without having to also boost the salaries of more than 120 fire personnel of corresponding rank.

“I know they’re desperate and they’re my friends, but this is a non-starter,” Clark said of the firefighters’ petition drive. “They’ve got an important job, but police and firefighters do not have the same job, and their rank structures are completely different. Just to come in and say, ‘We want what they’ve got’ – certainly I understand asking, but where in the world would the city of Houston come up with the kind of money that it would take?”

Apparently, something like $40 million per year, according to the story. This is an easy No vote for me, if it comes to one. We elect representatives to make these decisions, and it is generally my preference for that system to be allowed to do its thing. There’s a place for letting the voters decide on things, but this is not one of them. The cost, the difficulty in setting up a system to match job ranks, the fact that this is an obvious retaliatory move for the recent political setbacks the firefighters have experienced, those are also factors. I have no idea what happens from here, but if this does get on the ballot it will be interesting to see how a campaign plays out. The potential for it to get ugly is very high.