As we know, the TDP is suing the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office (again) over allegations that they are still not properly handling voter registrations. That suit followed the ugly accusations Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez and his radical buddies the King Street Patriots made against Houston Votes. Turns out that Houston Votes president Fred Lewis has also filed a lawsuit stemming from that.
A few weeks after [the TDP filed its suit], on Sept. 24, Lewis sued True The Vote. He claims that the group blatantly lied when it said most of its registrations had been rejected, and that the “vacant lot” registrations had been made in 2008 and 2009 — before Houston Votes was founded and when those lots still had homes on them.
“Plaintiffs believe that these are only a small part of the Defendants’ lies that have defamed and libeled Plaintiffs. In addition, Defendants have conspired with others to spread these and other lies,” the suit reads.
According to the lawsuit, [True The Vote president Catherine] Engelbrecht said — at an August meeting which featured DOJ whistleblower J. Christian Adams — that the Houston Votes headquarters is “the Texas office of the New Black Panthers.” In a video on Engelbrecht’s King Street Patriots’ web site, you can see her refer to a building as the “New Black Panthers’ office,” to gasps from the audience. She then mentions that people around the building wear T-shirts that look “suspiciously” like Houston Votes T-shirts.
The Trib has more on this:
The suit arises from comments [Engelbrecht] made at an Aug. 9 True the Vote meeting that linked Houston Votes to the New Black Panthers, a radical black separatist group known for the inflammatory statements of its leaders. The meeting featured a speech from Christian Adams, the Department of Justice lawyer who resigned in June to protest a decision by his higher-ups to drop an investigation into whether the Panthers intimidated Philadelphia voters during the 2008 presidential elections. While introducing Adams, Engelbrecht showed an undated clip of an unidentified black man in dreadlocks on speaking on Fox News, saying, “We have to exterminate white people off the face of this planet to solve this problem.” After playing the clip, Engelbrecht said, “Houston has a new neighbor; the New Black Panthers have opened up an office.” Then she showed an image of the Houston Votes office, saying: “That looks mysteriously like the T-shirt that the Houston Vote group wears.”
The Liberty Institute, a conservative legal advocacy group that litigates First Amendment claims, is representing Engelbrecht and the Patriots in the defamation suit. Jeff Mateer, the Institute’s general counsel, declined comment on Engelbrecht’s behalf but said they’ll file an answer to Lewis’ complaint by Oct. 25. In a separate conversation, the Institute’s executive director, Hiram Sasser, called the suit “an effort to intimidate citizens to exercise their rights to free speech and the government,” adding that the Constitution provides broad protection to citizens who engage in political speech.
George says there’s a difference between Engelbrecht’s “known falsehoods” and protected political speech. “The complaining of one side that the other is a genocidal criminal is well beyond the pale of what we allow in America,” he says, noting that citizens can “talk about public matters in any way they want to, but they cannot make up lies.”
You can see the video in question at the Trib link. I have no idea what will happen with the suit, though I welcome any opinions from actual lawyers about it. What I do know is that in a real sense, Vasquez and Engelbrecht and that lot have already won:
Meanwhile, on Oct. 4 — the deadline for registering to vote for the November election — Houston Votes 2010 was well below its goal of adding 100,000 new voters to the rolls. “We had registered around 29,000 as of Vasquez’s press conference, when we lost substantial canvassers, funding, and volunteers,” Lewis said in an e-mail. “I do not have the final number from the database managers, but I believe we registered over 35,000 people.”
Houston Votes brought some problems on itself, and it may be that no one group can register 100,000 people in a place like Harris County in that short a time frame. It’s still a great shame that they ran into such fierce resistance for the act of trying to get people involved in our democracy. Fear is too powerful a force, I guess. Juanita and Glenn Smith have more.