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HERO repeal lawsuit moved to federal court

And the bad guys are very unhappy about it.

PetitionsInvalid

Conservative activists seeking to repeal Houston’s equal rights ordinance accused the city of stalling the issue Wednesday after city lawyers moved the opponents’ lawsuit over rejected ballot petitions from state to federal court.

Opponents blasted the move, calling it a delay tactic aimed at keeping the issue off the November ballot. City officials called it a routine move invited by the plaintiffs’ decision to cite federal law in their suit.

[…]

Plaintiff Jared Woodfill, a conservative activist, said the city’s move was less about federal rights and more about putting off a ruling. Woodfill and opponents sought an injunction in state court Tuesday night, asking Visiting Judge John Coselli to suspend enforcement of the ordinance, effectively triggering the referendum process. Parker, however, already has said the city will not enforce the ordinance until there is a legal ruling.

Coselli did not rule on the injunction request Tuesday and by Wednesday afternoon the city had filed its notice of removal.

“They’re doing everything they can to keep the people and the courts from ruling on this,” Woodfill said.

Aw, poor baby. Here’s the original story on the lawsuit, which as noted was filed late Tuesday.

The lawsuit asks a state district judge to declare that City Secretary Anna Russell met her legal duty by verifying a sufficient number of signatures to force a vote, only to have City Attorney David Feldman illegally insert himself into verifying the petition, invalidating more than half of the petition’s 5,200 pages for failing to satisfy legal requirements in the city charter. That left opponents roughly 2,000 names short of the 17,269-signature threshold needed to force a referendum.

In a memo to Mayor Annise Parker and the City Council, Russell said she had found 17,846 valid signatures before Feldman reviewed the pages, and attributed the lower count to her review of his office’s work. At an injunction hearing Tuesday night, plaintiffs argued Russell’s initial count was the important one by law and should have triggered a referendum. City attorneys disagreed, saying Russell ultimately found there were not enough signatures.

“If he (Feldman) felt there were underlying problems with the petition then he, like us, has the right to file a lawsuit if he doesn’t agree with what the city secretary did,” said conservative activist Jared Woodfill, one of the four plaintiffs. “Going in before she’s ever made the decision and influencing her is inappropriate, it’s illegal and we believe the court will agree with us and that folks will have their voices heard in November on this issue.”

[…]

Feldman strongly disputed the idea that his involvement crossed ethical or legal lines, saying he has a specific duty under city ordinance to interpret the law and give legal advice.

“There’s nothing that would preclude me from giving legal advice to the city secretary,” Feldman said. “In fact, that’s what our ordinances would expect me to do: Give advice to her on an issue which is really a legal issue. The question of whether or not those pages are valid because of the issue of meeting or not meeting the requirements of the charter is a legal issue.”

As noted yesterday, you can see a copy of the lawsuit here, but those paragraphs above basically capture it. Woodfill and his playmates claim that only Anna Russell can determine the number of valid signatures. I thought their argument was kinda thin, but I am as always Not A Lawyer, so what do I know. As far as the complaints about delays go – remember, August 18 is looming as the last day for any measure to be put on the ballot – they are cordially invited to cry me a river.

One more thing, from the first story:

During her weekly press conference after Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Parker referred to a training video that shows Dave Welch, of the Houston Area Pastor Council and a leading opponent of the ordinance, explaining the rules signature gatherers needed to follow. With a power point presentation behind him, Welch tells the audience the unique repeal referendum process “makes it more challenging for us.”

Signature gatherers must be registered city voters, Welch said. If they are not, the entire page gets thrown out.

“Let me repeat that so everybody really understands that,” Welch said.

Parker said she had not seen the video, but that her staff had been “enjoying” it.

“So, it’s kind of amusing if, in fact, his own language is used against him in court,” Parker said.

Here’s the video in question. Skip ahead to 6:30 to hear the bit Mayor Parker is referring to. I don’t know that this makes any difference legally, but it’s pretty funny anyway.

Finally, on a side note, the Forward Times hosted a public forum recently to discuss the HERO and its effects. Supporters and opponents were invited to come and speak, but at the last minute the opposing speakers dropped out. TaShon Thomas is not impressed.

Puss in Boots tells the story of a cat that uses trickery and deceit to gain wealth, power, and the hand of a princess for his lowly master. Much like the mischievous cat, the opponents of the ordinance used every manner of trickery and deceit to get their point across and try to sell their side to the citizens of Houston. But when given the opportunity to actually talk about the ordinance in a sensible approach, none of the leaders of the petition drive decided to show up.

I have always been one who is open to hearing opposition and trying to understand where they are coming from, but it is impossible for me to do that if they do not show up when it is important. The mayor’s announcement should have not deterred the petition leaders from attending the forum; it should have been a rallying cry.

If you truly care about bettering the city of Houston and believe the ordinance would lead to its downfall, then you should use whatever avenue is given to you to get your point across. Do not just say you are going to attend and back out at the last moment as though you are cowering in defeat. Especially now since the window for the repeal to be placed on the ballot is approaching fast.

I hope this serves as a cautioning for anyone, especially elected officials or anyone trying to bring something to our community, who make commitments and fail to live up to his or her promises.

How can we support or trust you if you can’t even face the people you are trying to persuade to join your cause and go your way? In other words, do not let your mouth write a check that your behind can’t cash!

Amen to that.

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