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Jared Woodfill

Hotze and the judges

From family law attorney Greg Enos, who publishes a legal blog/newsletter called The Mongoose (I’ve referenced him here before):

Real Journalists Should Investigate How Republican Judges Are Funneling Money to Hotze’s Hate Group

I am a full-time lawyer and only a part-time journalist. Real news organizations need to look into the facts and questions uncovered in my story in this issue and tomorrow’s issue about how Harris County Republican judges are giving money to a politically powerful and hateful bigot, Steven Hotze, and his partner in anti-LGBT insanity, Jared Woodfill. Judges are paying money to a mysterious company that Woodfill and Hotze apparently partly own even as Woodfill is appearing in front of those same judges as a lawyer and being appointed by those judges to CPS cases where the county pays Woodfill’s fees. Go ask those judges if they are disclosing to the attorneys who oppose Woodfill in their courts that there is a business relationship between the judges’ campaigns and a company Woodfill apparently co-owns.

There have been news stories and blog posts about Hotze’s oversized and malignant influence on local GOP politics. But, no journalist has so far delved deeply into how money flows between Hotze’s various PAC’s, how his influential slate mailer is paid for, or where payments from judges to Hotze actually go. My two part article published today and tomorrow attempts to unravel and explain the tangled financial web of hate involving Hotze, Woodfill and most of the Republican judges in Harris County.

I started this project by trying to find out if the judges were making illegal contributions to Hotze’s political action committees (PAC). I realized during my investigation that some of the judges did not know exactly where their checks to Hotze ended up. But, I did conclude, based on the limited information I was able to uncover, that the judges’ payments were not illegally made to a PAC.

However, what I did learn poses just as serious questions about judicial ethics and the integrity of our judicial system. I am also now really curious about why these judges are paying money to Hotze’s and Woodfill’s company and what exactly they get for those payments if they are not paying for inclusion in Hotze’s slate mailer. I have spent dozens of hours on this investigation, and I still have more questions than answers.

That’s Part 1. Here’s Part 2. Both are long and detailed, far too in depth for me to usefully excerpt, so go read them. Enos is up front about generally supporting Democrats, but has no problem crossing over to support judges he likes, as well as District Clerk Chris Daniel. Enos documented a bunch of bad behavior by Judges Alicia Franklin and Denise Pratt in 2014; see here for those archives. If he’s coming at you, he’s got the receipts. Lord knows, no one deserves to be thoroughly and humiliatingly defeated more than Steven Hotze, and no judge worthy of the name should want to be associated with him. Go read what Enos has to say on the matter.

Woodfill and Hotze take their next shot at same sex employee benefits

Here we go again.

Anti-LGBTQ activists are again asking a Harris County judge to halt benefits for the same-sex spouses of Houston city employees, according to a recently filed motion.

The motion for summary judgment in Pidgeon v. Turner, a five-year-old lawsuit challenging the benefits, states that the city should not subsidize same-sex marriages because gay couples cannot produce offspring, “which are needed to ensure economic growth and the survival of the human race.”

The motion also asks Republican Judge Lisa Millard, of the 310th District Family Court, to order the city to “claw back” taxpayer funds spent on the benefits since November 2013, when former Mayor Annise Parker first extended health and life insurance coverage to same-sex spouses. And the court filing suggests that to comply with both state and federal law, the city should eliminate all spousal benefits, including for opposite-sex couples.

The motion for summary judgment was filed July 2 by Jared Woodfill, an attorney for Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks, two Houston taxpayers who initially brought their lawsuit in December 2013. Woodfill, a former chair of the Harris County Republican Party, is president of the Conservative Republicans of Texas, which is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

In his motion for summary judgment, Woodfill asserts that although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges in June 2015, that decision does not require the city to treat same-sex couples equally.

“Obergefell does not require taxpayer subsidies for same-sex marriages — any more than Roe v. Wade requires taxpayers subsidies for abortions,” Woodfill’s motion states.

Alan Bernstein, a spokesman for the city, said it will respond to the motion “in a timely fashion.”

“The City hopes the Judge will be persuaded by the law,” Bernstein said in an email. “The Legal Department defers to the arguments it will make in response.”

See here for previous coverage, and here for the last update. It’s hard to know what will happen here because the basic goal of the lawsuit is so ridiculous and harmful, and the immediate reaction of any decent person who hears about it will be “but marriage is marriage and why would anyone want to do that?” The sad and scary fact is that some people are like that, and that includes some judges. Did I mention that the judge in this case, Lisa Millard, is up for re-election in August? Sonya Heath is her opponent. There’s never been a better time to elect some better judges. Think Progress has more.

More accusers against Paul Pressler

So often the case when there is one accusation of abuse against a powerful person, more victims come forward with their own stories.

The list of men accusing a former Texas state judge and leading figure of the Southern Baptist Convention of sexual misconduct continues to grow.

In separate court affidavits filed this month, two men say Paul Pressler molested or solicited them for sex in a pair of incidents that span nearly 40 years. Those accusations were filed as part of a lawsuit filed last year by another man who says he was regularly raped by Pressler.

Pressler’s newest accusers are another former member of a church youth group and a lawyer who worked for Pressler’s former law firm until 2017.

Toby Twining, 59, now a New York musician, was a teenager in 1977 when he says Pressler grabbed his penis in a sauna at River Oaks Country Club, according to an affidavit filed in federal court. At that time, Pressler was a youth pastor at Bethel Church in Houston; he was ousted from that position in 1978 after church officials received information about “an alleged incident,” according to a letter introduced into the court file.

Brooks Schott, 27, now a lawyer in Washington state, says in an affidavit that he resigned his position at Pressler’s former law firm after Pressler in 2016 invited Schott to get into a hot tub with him naked. He also accuses Jared Woodfill, Pressler’s longtime law partner and the head of the Harris County Republican Party until 2014, of failing to prevent Pressler’s sexual advances toward him and others, which Schott says were well-known among the firm, the documents state.

Documents recently made public show that in 2004, Pressler agreed to pay $450,000 to another former youth group member for physical assault. That man, Duane Rollins, filed a new suit last year in which he demands more than $1 million for decades of alleged rapes that a psychiatrist recently confirmed had been suppressed from Rollins’ memory. Rollins also claims the trauma pushed him to the drugs and alcohol that resulted in multiple prison sentences.

[…]

Brooks Schott states in the documents that he met Pressler in 2016, after Schott was hired as a lawyer at the firm Pressler co-founded with Woodfill.

Schott says he was invited to lunch by Pressler in December 2016. He arrived at Pressler’s home, he says, where he was greeted by Pressler, who was not wearing pants. After dressing, Pressler gave Schott a tour of his office and mentioned a 10-person hot tub at his ranch.

“Pressler then told me that ‘when the ladies are not around, us boys all go in the hot tub completely naked,’ ” Schott’s affidavit states. “He then invited me to go hot tubbing with him at his ranch. This invitation was clearly made in anticipation that I would engage in sexual activity.”

Upon returning to the firm, Schott said an office manager told him that Pressler had previously solicited young men at the firm. Schott then complained to Woodfill, according to emails that were filed with his affidavit.

“If (the office manager) knew of Pressler’s past inappropriate sexual behavior, I find it hard to believe that you did not know about it,” he wrote in a Dec. 9, 2016 email to Woodfill, court records show.

Woodfill responded that Pressler was no longer his law partner and that “this 85-year-old man has never made any inappropriate comments or actions toward me or any one I know of,” court records show. In a subsequent email, Woodfill said that the conduct Schott described “is unacceptable” and said he would address it with Pressler.

In an email on Thursday, Woodfill responded to Schott’s assertion, writing that “the person described in Mr. Schott’s affidavit doesn’t match up with the Judge Pressler I know” and that Pressler “has not been associated with my law firm for over a decade.”

See here and here for the background. Copies of the affidavits are embedded in the story. And remember, when he’s not defending the character of Paul Pressler, Jared Woodfill is busy fighting to take away spousal benefits from LGBT city employees because he thinks gay people are icky and perverted. Stay tuned, I’m sure there will be more to this story.

Anti-same sex employee benefits lawsuit moved back to state court

On and on we go.

Nearly three years after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, the city of Houston continues to battle for the rights of its gay workers.

On Tuesday, a judge struck down Houston’s attempts to defend its city benefits policy in federal court. The case will be remanded back to state court, and the city will have to pay the legal fees of the two men suing to overturn the policy, which extends spousal benefits to same-sex marriages.

The outcome of this case will be limited to the city of Houston. Dallas has a similar policy that has not been challenged.

But the fight is a good example of the war waged to erase, erode or at least stop the expansion of LGBT rights since since the 2015 marriage ruling, Noel Freeman said.

“These are people who are never, ever going to give up. They are going to go to their grave hating us,” Freeman, the first city of Houston employee to receive spousal benefits for his husband, told The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday. “And there is no court case … that’s going to change their minds.

“That’s just the way it is.”

[…]

In a last-ditch effort to shift the fight to federal court, Houston asked to move the case to the Southern District Court earlier this year. On Tuesday, Judge Kenneth Hoyt ruled the city did not prove federal court was the proper venue and ordered it to pay Pidgeon and Hicks’ legal fees.

The case will be remanded to Harris County District Court. Married gay city employees will continue to receive benefits for their spouses until a final ruling.

See here for previous coverage of this atrocity, which is still a thing because our feckless State Supreme Court allowed itself to be pressured into giving the case a second chance after previously refusing to consider it. Noel Freeman, who’s a friend of mine, is quite right that the people pursuing this action (including Jared Woodfill) will never give up – if this suit is ultimately ruled against them, they’ll find some other pretext to keep LGBT folks from being treated as full and equal members of society. We all need to oppose the politicians who enable these haters, and support those who favor equality. It’s the only way this will get better.

More on the Pressler lawsuit

The Chron adds some details to the lawsuit against former State Representative and Judge Paul Pressler, who has been accused by Duane Rollins of long-term sexual abuse.

Rollins worked in 2003 and 2004 as a personal assistant to Pressler and attended the same church as Pressler beginning as a teenager, according to court documents. Those documents include two letters ostensibly written by Pressler in 2000 and 2002 trying to gain Rollins’ release from prison.

The suit, a revised version of which was filed Dec. 14, seeks more than $1 million in damages.

Also named as defendants are Jared Woodfill, Pressler’s former law partner and former head of the Republican Party in Harris County; the First Baptist Church of Houston; the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and its president, Paige Patterson; and Pressler’s wife, Nancy.

The suit claims the other defendants knew or should have known about the alleged assaults and could have stopped them.

Pressler has categorically denied all of the allegations in court filings, as did the other defendants, and his lawyer filed a motion Thursday afternoon asking that the case be thrown out of court.

[…]

It’s not the first time Rollins has sued Pressler – he filed suit in July 2004 with his mother, Margaret Duryea, but the suit was dismissed two months later after an apparent settlement was reached, according to records with the Dallas County District Clerk’s Office and Harris County courts.

The case file containing the 2004 lawsuit has since been destroyed by Dallas County, as allowed under state law. But Rollins’ attorney, Daniel Shea, who also represented him in Dallas, provided a copy of the 2004 lawsuit, which accuses Pressler of physically assaulting Rollins during a trip to Dallas in November 2003.

In August 2016, Rollins filed a notice of intent to file a lawsuit against Pressler in Harris County to force him to set aside funds to pay out the remaining balance of the 2004 settlement agreement through 2029. That’s when the payments are set to end, according to court documents.

Neither Woodfill, who represented Pressler in 2004, nor Shea would provide the Chronicle a copy of the settlement agreement. But the court documents filed in 2016 link the settlement directly to the 2004 lawsuit.

The notice seeks to question Pressler under oath about the settlement agreement.

[…]

Shea is perhaps best known for suing a Harris County judge who posted the Ten Commandments in a courtroom, and for attempting to sue the Pope in federal court in 2005 over sexual abuse of minors by priests.

Shea also represented some plaintiffs in Massachusetts when sexual abuse scandals plagued the Boston and Worcester Archdioceses in the early 2000s.

Shea has had a rocky history in Texas. His law license was suspended in 2013 for 18 months for professional misconduct and was reinstated in October 2014, though he remained on probation until March 2017, according to the State Bar of Texas website. A state bar disciplinary report published in the Texas Bar Journal said he entered into a contract with a client that was unfair and unreasonable, without the client’s written consent to the terms. He was ordered to pay more than $38,000 in restitution to the client.

See here for the background. The defense is arguing that the statute of limitations renders this action moot. There will be a hearing on January 17, and there is also a motion to transfer the case to Tarrant County. Assuming this doesn’t get kicked, it’s going to be quite fascinating to watch.

(On a side note, Paul Pressler gave $5000 to the anti-HERO campaign. Gotta beware of those predators, you know.)

The Paul Pressler lawsuit

Here‘s a thing to keep an eye on.

A former Texas state judge and lawmaker has been accused of sexually abusing a young man for several decades starting when the boy was just 14, according to a lawsuit filed in October in Harris County.

The lawsuit alleges that Paul Pressler, a former justice on the 14th Court of Appeals who served in the Texas state house from 1957–59, sexually assaulted Duane Rollins, his former bible study student, several times per month over a period of years. According to the filing, the abuse started in the late 1970s and continued less frequently after Rollins left Houston for college in 1983.

In a November court filing, Pressler “generally and categorically [denied] each and every allegation” in Rollins’ petition.

The abuse, which consisted of anal penetration, took place in Pressler’s master bedroom study, the suit alleges. According to the lawsuit, Pressler told Rollins he was “special” and that the sexual contact was their God-sanctioned secret.

Pressler is a leading figure on the religious right in Texas and was a key player in the “conservative resurgence” of Southern Baptism, a movement in the 1970s and 1980s that aimed to oust liberals and moderates from the church’s organizational structure. Pressler’s wife Nancy, his former law partner Jared Woodfill, Woodfill Law Firm, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and First Baptist Church of Houston are also named as defendants in the suit.

Rollins seeks damages of over $1 million.

It’s ugly stuff. The original reporting was in the Quorum Report, which has a few more details:

Rollins regularly saw Patterson and Pressler. At one point, the three travelled abroad together, the suit says.

Following the trip, Rollins was arrested for driving while intoxicated in Houston, leading to a string of felonies and ultimately back to prison. He was finally released in November of 2015 after telling a psychologist about being molested.

Rollins sought professional help and a lawyer, Daniel Shea of Houston.

A psychiatric evaluation of Rollins provided in the filing revealed he suffered from undiagnosed Posttraumatic Stress Disorder as a result of being molested.

The petition also questions the dogmas and beliefs of Pressler, Rev. Patterson and others with the goal of discrediting the theology of the resurgence, which advocates a literal interpretation of Scripture within the SBC, as a smokescreen for “one of the most pernicious philosophical and theological dogmas afoot in this country. It is known as ‘Calvinism’,” the case reads.

The lawsuit is here.

Letters from Judge Pressler vouching for the plaintiff are here and here.

The psychiatric evaluation of the plaintiff can be downloaded here.

Keep an eye on this one, I have a feeling it’s going to be big.

Two unsatisfying articles about the 2016 Democratic sweep in Harris County

The Democratic sweep in Harris County has drawn some national attention, as writers from the left and right try to analyze what happened here last year and why Hillary Clinton carried the county by such a large margin. Unfortunately, as is often the case with stories about Texas by people not from Texas, the results are not quite recognizable to those of us who are here. Let’s begin with this story in Harper’s, which focuses on the efforts of the Texas Organizing Project.

Amid the happy lawyers, journalists, and other movers and shakers at the victory parties, one group of seventy-five men and women, who had arrived on a chartered bus, stood out. Most of them were Latinos, like Petra Vargas, a Mexican-born hotel worker who had spent the day walking her fellow immigrants to the polls. Others were African Americans, such as Rosie McCutcheon, who had campaigned relentlessly for the ticket while raising six grandchildren on a tiny income. All of them wore turquoise T-shirts bearing the logo top. Not only had they made a key contribution to the day’s results — they represented a new and entirely promising way of doing politics in Texas.

The Texas Organizing Project was launched in 2009 by a small group of veteran community organizers. Michelle Tremillo, a fourth-generation Tejana (a Texan of Mexican descent), grew up in public housing in San Antonio, where her single mother worked as a janitor. Making it to Stanford on a scholarship, she was quickly drawn into politics, beginning with a student walkout in protest of Proposition 187, California’s infamous anti-immigrant ballot measure. By the time she graduated, the elite university had changed her view of the world. “I always knew I was poor growing up, and I even understood that I was poorer than some of my peers that I went to school with,” Tremillo told me. What she eventually came to understand was the sheer accumulation of wealth in America and its leveling effect on the rest of the population: “We were all poor.”

Both Tremillo and her TOP cofounder Ginny Goldman, a Long Island native, had worked for ACORN, the progressive national community organization that enjoyed considerable success — registering, for example, half a million minority voters in 2008 — before becoming a target of calculated assaults by right-wing operatives. By 2009, the group was foundering, and it was dissolved a year later.

In response, the activists came up with TOP. Goldman, who was its first executive director, told me that TOP was designed to focus on specific Texan needs and realities and thereby avoid the “national cookie-cutter approach.” The organization would work on three levels: doorstep canvassing, intense research on policy and strategy, and mobilizing voter turnout among people customarily neglected by the powers that be.

[…]

The TOP founders and their colleagues, including another Stanford graduate, Crystal Zermeno, a Tejana math whiz whose mother grew up sleeping on the floor, began to ponder ways to change that. Might it be possible to mobilize enough voters to elect progressives to statewide office? For non-Republicans in Texas and elsewhere, the most galling aspect of recurrent electoral defeat has been the persistent failure of supposedly natural allies, specifically Latinos and African Americans, to show up at the polls. For years, Democratic officials and commentators had cherished the notion that natural growth in the minority population, which rose from 20 percent to nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population between 1985 and 2015, would inevitably put the party back in power. Yet these designated agents of change seemed reluctant to play their part. As I was incessantly reminded in Houston, “Demographics are not destiny.”

The problem has been especially acute in Texas, which produced the lowest overall turnout of any state in the 2010 midterm elections. Three million registered African-American and Latino voters stayed home that year, not to mention the 2 million who were unregistered. The result was a state government subservient to the demands and prejudices of Republican primary voters, and unrepresentative of the majority in a state where almost one in four children lived in poverty, 60 percent of public-school students qualified for free or subsidized lunches, and the overall poverty rate was growing faster than the national average. Following the crushing Republican victory in 2010, TOP launched an ambitious project to discover, as Zermeno put it, “who was not voting, and why.”

Digging deep into voter files and other databases, Zermeno confirmed that Texas contained a “wealth of non-voting people of color.” Most of them were registered, but seldom (if ever) turned up at the polls. The problem, she noted, was especially acute with Latinos, only 15 percent of whom were regular voters. In her detailed report, she calculated precisely how many extra voters needed to turn out to elect someone who would represent the interests of all Texans: a minimum of 1.1 million. Fortuitously, these reluctant voters were concentrated in just nine big urban counties, led by Harris.

Ever since the era of Ann Richards, Democrats had been focusing their efforts (without success) on winning back white swing voters outside the big cities. But Zermeno realized that there was no reason “to beat our heads against the wall for that group of people anymore, not when we’ve got a million-voter gap and as many as four million non-voting people of color in the big cities, who are likely Democrats.” By relentlessly appealing to that shadow electorate, and gradually turning them into habitual voters, TOP could whittle down and eliminate the Republican advantage in elections for statewide offices such as governor and lieutenant governor, not to mention the state’s thirty-eight votes in the presidential Electoral College. In other words, since the existing Texas electorate was never going to generate a satisfactory result, TOP was going to have to grow a new one.

There was, however, still another question to answer. Why were those 4 million people declining to vote? TOP embarked on a series of intensive focus groups, which were largely financed by Amber and Steve Mostyn, a pair of progressive Houston claims attorneys. (Their string of lucrative settlements included some with insurance companies who had balked at paying claims for Ike-related house damage.) Year after year, the Mostyns had loyally stumped up hefty donations to middle-of-the-road Democrats who doggedly pursued existing voters while ignoring the multitude who sat out elections all or most of the time. When TOP asked these reluctant voters about their abstention, the answer was almost always the same: “When I have voted for Democrats in the past, nothing has changed, so it’s not worth my time.” There was one telling exception: in San Antonio, voters said that the only Texas Democrat they trusted was Julián Castro, who ran for mayor in 2009 on a platform of bringing universal pre-K to the city, and delivered on his promise when he won.

“There’s this misunderstanding that people don’t care, that people are apathetic,” Goldman told me. “It’s so not true. People are mad and they want to do something about it. People want fighters that will deliver real change for them. That’s why year-round community organizing is so critical. People see that you can deliver real impact, and that you need the right candidates in office to do it, and connect it back to the importance of voting. It’s the ongoing cycle. We see winning the election as only the first step toward the real win, which is changing the policies that are going to make people’s lives better.”

Beginning with the 2012 election, TOP canvassers — volunteers and paid employees working their own neighborhoods — were trained to open a doorstep interview not with statements about a candidate but with a question: “What issue do you care about?” The answer, whether it was the minimum wage or schools or potholes, shaped the conversation as the canvasser explained that TOP had endorsed a particular candidate (after an intensive screening) because of his or her position on those very issues. These were not hit-and-run encounters. Potential voters were talked to “pretty much nonstop for about eight to ten weeks leading to the election,” according to Goldman. “They got their doors knocked three to five times. They got called five to seven times. They signed a postcard saying, ‘I pledge to vote.’ They circled which day they were going to vote on a little calendar on the postcard, and we mailed those postcards back to them. We offered them free rides to the polls. We answered all of their questions, gave them all the information they needed, until they cast a ballot. And what we saw was that the Latino vote grew by five percentage points in Harris County in 2012.”

Link via Political Animal. I love TOP and I think they do great work, but this article leaves a lot of questions unasked as well as unanswered. When Ginny Goldman says that the Latino vote grew by five percent in Harris County in 2012, I need more context for that. How does that compare to the growth of Latino registered voters in the same time period (which I presume is since 2008)? What was the growth rate in areas where TOP was doing its outreach versus areas where it was not? Do we have the same data for 2016? I want to be impressed by that number, but I need this information before I can say how impressed I am.

For all that TOP should be rightly proud of their efforts, it should be clear from the description that it’s labor intensive. If the goal is to close a 1.1 million voter gap at the state level, how well does the TOP model scale up? What’s the vision for taking this out of Harris County (and parts of Dallas; the story also includes a bit about the Democratic win in HD107, which as we know was less Dem-friendly than HD105, which remained Republican) and into other places where it can do some good?

I mean, with all due respect, the TOP model of identifying low-propensity Dem-likely voters and pushing them to the polls with frequent neighbor-driven contact sounds a lot like the model that Battleground Texas was talking about when they first showed up. One of the complaints I heard from a dedicated BGTX volunteer was that both the people doing the contact and the people being contacted grew frustrated by it over time. That gets back to my earlier question about how well this might scale, since one size seldom fits all. To the extent that it does work I say great! Let’s raise some money and put all the necessary resources into making it work. I just have a hard time believing that it’s the One Thing that will turn the tide. It’s necessary – very necessary – to be sure. I doubt that it is sufficient.

Also, too, in an article that praises the local grassroots effort of a TOP while denigrating top-down campaigns, I find it fascinating that the one political consultant quoted is a guy based in Washington, DC. Could the author not find a single local consultant to talk about TOP’s work?

Again, I love TOP and I’m glad that they’re getting some national attention. I just wish the author of this story had paid more of that attention to the details. With all that said, the TOP story is a masterpiece compared to this Weekly Standard article about how things looked from the Republican perspective.

Gary Polland, a three-time Harris County Republican party chairman, can’t remember a time the GOP has done so poorly. “It could be back to the 60’s.” Jared Woodfill, who lost the chairmanship in 2014, does remember. “This is the worst defeat for Republicans in the 71-year history of Republican party of Harris County,” he said.

But crushing Republicans in a county of 4.5 million people doesn’t mean Democrats are on the verge of capturing Texas. In fact, Democratic leaders were as surprised as Republicans by the Harris sweep. But it does show there’s a political tide running in their direction.

Democratic strategists are relying on a one-word political panacea to boost the party in overtaking Republicans: Hispanics. They’re already a plurality—42 percent—in Harris County. Whites are 31 percent, blacks 20 percent, and Asians 7 percent. And the Hispanic population continues to grow. Democrats control the big Texas cities—Dallas, San Antonio, El Paso, to name three—thanks to Hispanic voters.

But in Houston, at least, Democrats have another factor in their favor: Republican incompetence. It was in full bloom in 2016. Though it was the year of a change election, GOP leaders chose a status quo slogan, “Harris County Works.” Whatever that was supposed to signal, it wasn’t change.

“It doesn’t exactly have the aspirational ring of ‘Make America Great Again’ or even Hillary’s ‘Stronger Together,'” Woodfill said. “It is very much a message of ‘everything is okay here, let’s maintain the status quo.’ People were confused and uninspired.”

A separate decision was just as ruinous. GOP leaders, led by chairman Paul Simpson, panicked at the thought of Trump at the top of the ticket. So they decided to pretend Trump was not on the ticket. They kept his name off campaign literature. They didn’t talk about him. And Trump, assured of winning Texas, didn’t spend a nickel in the Houston media market. It became an “invisible campaign,” Polland said. “There were votes to be had,” Polland told me. They were Trump votes. They weren’t sought.

This strategy defied reason and history. Disunited parties usually do poorly. GOP leaders gambled that their candidates would do better if the Trump connection were minimized. That may have eased the qualms of some about voting Republican. But it’s bound to have prompted others to stay at home on Election Day. We know one thing about the gamble: It didn’t work. Republicans were slaughtered, and it wasn’t because the candidates were bad.

“Our overall ticket was of high quality, but no casual voter would know it since the campaign focus was on ‘Harris County Works,’ and Houston doesn’t,” Polland insisted. “Did we read about any of the high-quality women running? Not much. Did we read about issues raised by Donald Trump that were resonating with voters? Nope. Did the Simpson-led party even mention Trump? Nope.”

[…]

Republican Rep. Kevin Brady, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the “holy grail” for Democrats, both in Texas and nationally, is winning the Hispanic vote. “They did that somewhat successfully” in 2016, he said in an interview. Unless Democrats attract significantly more Hispanic voters in 2018, Brady thinks Republicans should recover. His district north of Houston lies partly in Harris County.

For this to happen, they will need to attract more Hispanic voters themselves. They recruited a number of Hispanics to run in 2016, several of them impressive candidates. All were defeated in the Democratic landslide.

I have no idea what the author means by “a number of Hispanics” being recruited, because by my count of the countywide candidates, there were exactly two – Debra Ibarra Mayfield and Linda Garcia, both judges who had been appointed to the benches on which they sat. Now I agree that two is a number, but come on.

Like the first story, this one talks about the increase in Latino voting in Harris County in 2016 as well. Usually, in this kind of article, some Republican will talk about how Latinos aren’t automatically Democrats, how it’s different in Texas, and so on. In this one, the turnout increase is met with a resigned shrug and some vague assurances that things will be better for them in 2018. Maybe no one had anything more insightful than that to say – it’s not like Jared Woodfill is a deep thinker – but it sure seems to me like that might have been a worthwhile subject to explore.

As for the griping about the county GOP’s strategy of not mentioning Trump, a lot of that is the two previous GOP chairs dumping on the current chair, which is fine by me. But honestly, what was the local GOP supposed to do? Not only was their Presidential candidate singularly unappealing, their two main incumbents, Devon Anderson and Ron Hickman, weren’t exactly easy to rally behind, either. Focusing on the judges seems to me to have been the least bad of a bunch of rotten options. Be that as it may, no one in this story appeared to notice or care that some thirty thousand people who otherwise voted Republican crossed over for Hillary Clinton, with a few thousand more voting Libertarian or write-in. Does anyone think that may be a problem for them in 2018? A better writer might have examined that a bit, as well as pushed back on the assertion that more Trump was the best plan. It may be that, as suggested by the recent Trib poll, some of these non-Trumpers are warming up to the guy now that he’s been elected. That would suggest at least some return to normalcy for the GOP, but the alternate possibility is that they’re just as disgusted with him and might be open to staying home or voting against some other Republicans next year as a protest. That would be a problem, but not one that anyone in this story is thinking about.

So there you have it. At least with the first story, I learned something about TOP. In the second one, I mostly learned that Gary Polland and Jared Woodfill don’t like Paul Simpson and have him in their sights for next year. That will provide a little mindless entertainment for the rest of us, which I think we’ll all appreciate. It still would have been nice to have gotten something more of substance.

State Supreme Court hears same sex marriage appeal today

Gird your loins.

Almost two years after same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, Texas Republicans are still fighting the ruling — and they’re getting another day in court.

The Texas Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on Wednesday in a Houston case challenging the city’s benefits policy for married same-sex couples. Though such policies have been in place since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2015 ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, Texas conservatives are betting the Houston case opens up a path to relitigate the high court’s decision.

“This particular opinion will go to the U.S. Supreme Court and is a potential vehicle for overturning Obergefell given the changing composition of the court,” said Jared Woodfill, one of the lawyers leading the lawsuit filed against Houston on behalf of two taxpayers, and a prominent conservative activist in the city. “Ultimately, I would like to see Obergefell overturned.”

At the center of the Houston case is whether Obergefell, which legalized same-sex marriage across the country, requires the city and other governmental agencies to extend taxpayer-subsidized benefits to same-sex spouses of government employees.

In Obergefell, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 ruled that bans on marriages between couples of the same sex are unconstitutional and that states must recognize same-sex marriage as legal. Following that ruling, public employers in the state quickly extended benefits for same-sex spouses of public employees.

But opponents argue that interpretation was far too broad.

Obergefell may require states to license and recognize same-sex marriages, but that does not require states to give taxpayer subsidies to same-sex couples — any more than Roe v. Wade requires states to subsidize abortions or abortion providers,” lawyers challenging the Houston policy wrote in a filing with the Texas Supreme Court.

They argue that the right to marry does not “entail any particular package of tax benefits, employee fringe benefits or testimonial privileges.” (In a separate case against the state’s now-defunct ban on same-sex marriage, the Texas Attorney General’s office actually argued that marriage is a right that comes with benefits the state is entitled to control.)

[…]

For observers, the court’s reversal was an unusual move. And it’s difficult to ignore the politics involved, considering that the legal issues in the Houston case seem to be “tap dancing around what is already a fairly established right,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor and Texas Constitution expert at the University of Houston.

“There has been an emerging litmus test for state judges that wasn’t necessarily so apparent 20 years ago,” Rottinghaus said. “Republicans have party control of the court but not necessarily ideological control, and I think these kinds of cases are those that can be used in the future to be a bulwark for conservative activists looking to change even a Republican court to a more conservative direction.”

See here and here for the background, and here for an amicus brief filed on behalf of Equality Texas and a married couple who would be negatively affected by a ruling for the plaintiffs. The Supreme Court is gonna do what the Supreme Court is gonna do, and I’m not in a position to analyze the legal minutiae. What I will emphasize is that not only does this lawsuit go against any common sense idea of fairness – if you’re married, you’re married, and you have the same rights and responsibilities as anyone else who is married; I do know that the underpinning of the Obergefell ruling was a rejection of this argument that same-sex couples are somehow “less than” opposite sex couples – but it’s well against the mainstream of public opinion. Even before Obergefell was handed down, a plurality of Texans supported same sex marriage. I can’t find any more recent results, mostly because it’s not even worth polling on these days. Corporate America has been providing benefits to same-sex couples for years now. This is a settled matter for everyone except pea-brained individuals like Jared Woodfill. I can only hope the Supreme Court is better than this.

Republicans take their desperate shot at limiting same sex marriage

Pathetic.

RedEquality

After coming out on the losing end of a United States Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, Texas Republican leaders are now looking to the Texas Supreme Court to narrow the scope of that landmark ruling.

Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Thursday filed an amicus brief with the Texas Supreme Court urging the all-Republican court to reconsider a Houston case challenging the city’s benefits policy for married same-sex couples. It appears they’ve set their eyes on the Houston case as a way to limit the effect of the high court’s ruling.

The Texas Supreme Court has already had a say in the case challenging Houston’s benefits policy, which was extended to same-sex spouses of city employees. In a 8-1 ruling, the court in September declined to take up the case, letting stand a lower court decision that upheld the benefits for same-sex couples.

In asking the Texas Supreme Court to re-open the Houston case, state’s leaders in their brief also urged the court to clarify that the case that legalized same-sex marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges, does not “bind state courts to resolve all other claims in favor of the right to same-sex marriage.”

In Obergefell, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 ruled that marriages between couples of the same sex cannot be prohibited by states, overriding Texas’ long-standing ban on same-sex marriage.

Abbott, Patrick and Paxton in their brief argue that Obergefell does not include a “command” that public employers “take steps beyond recognizing same-sex marriage — steps like subsidizing same-sex marriages (through the allocation of employee benefits) on the same terms as traditional marriages.”

See here and here for the background. I have no idea why they think the Supreme Court is any more likely to take this up now than the last time, but what do I know. And if this does somehow make it past the State Supreme Court, I have a feeling the federal courts will be there to swat it back down. I don’t even know what to say at this point, so go read this statement from Equality Texas about this fiasco. The Press and the Current have more.

Republicans join Woodfill’s ridiculous anti-spousal benefits crusade

Shoveling sand against the tide.

RedEquality

Fifty Republican members of the Texas Legislature have signed a court brief arguing that the same-sex spouses of government employees shouldn’t be entitled to health insurance and other benefits.

The “friend-of-the-court” brief was submitted Friday in a lawsuit brought by anti-LGBT activists against the city of Houston in response to then-Mayor Annise Parker’s decision to extend benefits to the same-sex spouses of city employees in 2013.

Last month, the Texas Supreme Court refused to hear the case, Pidgeon v. Parker, with only Justice John Devine dissenting. But Jonathan Saenz, president of the anti-LGBT group Texas Values, and former Harris County GOP chair Jared Woodfill have petitioned the nine-member court for a rehearing.

[…]

The brief argues that while the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples have a right to marry, “nothing in that ruling compelled the taxpayers of Texas to pay for a vast array of benefits for same-sex spouses.”

“This Court has the opportunity to diminish federal tyranny and re-establish Texas Sovereignty,” the brief states. “The people have already spoken on the issue through the Texas Legislature. It would be a detriment to their constituents if this elected Court were to remain silent.”

LGBT advocates have said that under Obergefell, if a government employer offers any spousal benefits, it must offer them equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples. They’ve also said they believe it is unlikely the state’s highest court will reconsider its decision.

See here for the background. The list of Republicans who signed on mostly includes the usual suspects, but there were a few names that disappointed me. Putting that aside, I have to ask, how does this even make sense? Does anyone really think that Obergefell will be interpreted as “OK, fine, you can get married, but you can’t get health insurance or be named the primary beneficiary of a retirement fund unless you get hetero married”? Forget about any cockamamie legal theory for this, what kind of person thinks this makes sense? (By the way, that cockamamie legal theory, as espoused by the one Supreme Court Justice out of nine that originally voted to rehear the appeal, is that hetero marriage counts for more and can be privileged by the state because of procreation; this argument was explicitly rejected by the federal courts and SCOTUS in the Obergefell case. So you can see what kind of a future this would have if it somehow got accepted here.) The Statesman has more.

Jared Woodfill never stops never stopping

Here we go again.

RedEquality

Fifteen months after the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land, anti-LGBT groups in Texas are still fighting the decision.

Jonathan Saenz, president of the right-wing lobby group Texas Values, and Houston anti-LGBT activist Jared Woodfill announced Tuesday that they’re again asking the Texas Supreme Court to hear their lawsuit seeking to block the same-sex spouses of government workers from receiving health care and other benefits.

[…]

In their motion for a rehearing, Saenz and Woodfill argue that Obergefell should be interpreted narrowly because it violates states’ rights under the 10th Amendment, has no basis in the Constitution and threatens religious freedom.

“It is clear that the current Supreme Court will continue to use its power to advance the ideology of the sexual revolution until there is a change of membership,” Saenz and Woodfill wrote. “It is well known that the homosexual rights movement is not content with the judicial imposition of same-sex marriage in all 50 States; it is also seeking to coerce people of faith who oppose homosexual behavior into participating in same-sex marriage ceremonies.”

Ken Upton, senior counsel for the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, told theObserver that Saenz and Woodfill are “more to be pitied than censored.”

“Obergefell requires the government to treat all married couples the same,” Upton said. “Obergefell doesn’t say that a government employer has to offer any married couple spousal benefits, but if it chooses to do so it must offer the same benefits to all married couples not just the different-sex ones. The government does not get to privilege straight couples over gay couples.”

If the Texas Supreme Court were to take the case and rule in favor of Saenz and Woodfill, the city of Houston could appeal the decision directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, Upton said.

“But let’s be realistic,” he added. “The Texas Supreme Court is not going to grant rehearing. My take is that the Texas Supreme Court is done with marriage. I don’t think there’s much appetite to re-engage that discussion.”

See here for the background. Some things call for logic and reason, some for scorn and derision, and for some all one can do is stare in slack-jawed amazement. That’s all I’ve got on this one.

State Supreme Court declines to hear lawsuit over city’s same-sex partner benefits

I had totally forgotten this was still a thing that was happening.

RedEquality

The Texas Supreme Court has declined to hear a case challenging Houston’s extension of health and life-insurance benefits to same-sex spouses of married employees, calling an apparent end to three years of legal battles over the policy change.

Houston began offering employment benefits to spouses of all married couples in November 2013, following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Then-Mayor Annise Parker’s move prompted three lawsuits, two from conservatives who argued the policy violated Houston’s city charter, the Defense of Marriage Act and the Texas Constitution.

State District Judge Lisa Millard twice signed a temporary restraining order blocking the city from offering the benefits, most recently in November 2014.

Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals lifted that injunction last summer after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in the case Obergefell v. Hodges.

Conservative activists Jared Woodfill and Jonathan Saenz later appealed that decision, arguing that “there is no ‘fundamental right’ to spousal employee benefits.”

See here, here, and here for some background. The federal lawsuit was officially dismissed on July 6, 2015, but there remained a state-court lawsuit. You can see its full history at the Supreme Court level here. According to the Chron story, Woodfill intends to ask for a rehearing. I have no idea what he thinks he can accomplish at this point, but no one ever said Jared Woodfill was a rational being, and as Mark Joseph Stern at Slate observed, there was at least one Supreme Court justice (John Devine, of course) who really pines for the day when all those icky gay people had to hide themselves in closets. People like that are thankfully part of a shrinking minority these days, but don’t kid yourself into thinking they’ll ever truly go away. The Press has more.

Hotze and Woodfill take their hate statewide

These guys, I swear.

The conservative organizers who helped topple Houston’s equal rights ordinance are pledging a $2 million advertising campaign against Target over the big box store’s transgender bathroom policy.

Jared Woodfill and Steven Hotze of Conservative Republicans of Texas on Thursday launched the new “Campaign for USA” in what they described as an effort to keep men out of women’s restrooms. The duo had already called for a nationwide boycott of Target.

“We must stand up for the rights of our grandmothers, mothers, wives and daughters,” said Woodfill, who recently lost a bid to become chairman of the state GOP.

[…]

Woodfill, a frequent LGBT foe, on Thursday released a new TV ad that mirrors a provocative ad from the effort to defeat the Houston ordinance. His group also launched a new website, which says “transgender” is a just euphemism for “pervert.”

Blah blah blah. I’d note that this is pretty much the same sort of thing that was regularly said about gays not too long ago. Hell, it’s the same sort of crap Hotze and Woodfill say about gays today. My point is that this kind of hysteria can only be effective for so long. Woodfill and Hotze’s problem is that transgender people are, you know, people. People with family and friends and coworkers and neighbors, who go about their lives. The reality doesn’t measure up to the fearmongering, as people figured out about the gays and lesbians that Hotze and Woodfill and the like kept trying to make them despise. It may take awhile and there will surely be setbacks along the way, but lies eventually lose to the truth. It won’t be easy, and these guys will never stop trying to hurt the people they hate, but they will lose in the end. Just keep that in mind. Juanita has more.

POSTSCRIPT: I drafted this before the horrible mass murder in Orlando, and when I looked at it again as I scheduled it for publication, it was difficult to fight down the revulsion that I feel for these two hateful bastards. What happened in Orlando is the effect of stigmatization and dehumanization. I don’t care what drove this particular gunman to do what he did. The root cause is hatred and fear of The Other. Jared Woodfill and Steven Hotze bear a piece of the responsibility for that.

Overview of the Harris County GOP Chair runoff

This is the Republican runoff I’m most interested in.

vote-button

Two years after wresting control of the Harris County Republican Party, Paul Simpson is facing an unexpected runoff challenge from political newcomer Rick Ramos in a race that again pits establishment fiscal conservatives against a group of socially minded GOP kingmakers.

Simpson finished second with 39 percent of the vote in March’s three-way primary, as Ramos and political novice Tex Christopher – neither of whom reported raising a penny – earned the remainder.

Caught off guard, several party activists and deep-pocketed donors have mobilized behind Simpson, as Ramos has leaned on the support of a trio of local power players: Steve Hotze, Gary Polland and Terry Lowry.

Both candidates painted the outcome of the low-profile race as crucial for the party’s future in Harris County, which recently swung majority-Democratic, according to Rice University’s Kinder Institute.

“We are a battleground county,” Simpson, a 61-year-old energy lawyer, said during a recent interview in his downtown office. “So, the only way we can keep Republican leadership in place is to be an effective party, and we weren’t for a long time.”

Ramos, a 45-year-old family lawyer, said the party needs to broaden its appeal among minority voters and get more involved in social policy fights.

“For the Republican Party to be able to go forward … we have to have more diversity. We have to be able to reach out to communities at large within our own county, and what worked 20 years ago, 30 years ago for the Republican Party is not going to work in the immediate future,” Ramos said. “I think we have to be more proactive, more innovative, and really give the party somewhat of a face-lift.”

The down-ballot race drew scarcely any attention amid the Super Tuesday hubbub, when about two-thirds of the Republican voters cast ballots for party chair.

Little appears to have changed ahead of the May 24 runoff, for which Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said he expects just 50,000 Republican voters to turn out.

I was going to cast aspersions on Stanart’s estimate of GOP runoff turnout, partly because he so comically mis-estimated March turnout and partly because as is the case on the Dem side there’s not really anything to drive runoff turnout, but there were 40,547 GOP primary runoff votes in 2008, when there was even less to push people to the polls, so given that 50K seems quite reasonable. (The 2012 runoffs, which were all about Cruz v. Dewhurst for Senate, are not a viable comparison.) I don’t have anything to add to this story, as I don’t know the combatants and have no stake in the outcome, but like many people I was caught off guard by the March result and have been waiting for a Chron story on the race. This one does answer some of my questions, and it offers the hint of continued GOP infighting after whoever gets elected, which is always nice to contemplate. Beyond that, I’ll leave it to those who will vote in this race to offer up their thoughts on it.

By all means, go for Jared

Keeping it classy.

The race for chairman of the Texas Republican Party has spawned charges that the party’s current leader, Tom Mechler, supports a “disgusting homosexual agenda.”

A supporter of Jared Woodfill, a Houston lawyer and former chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, has sent out campaign mailers blasting Mechler for allowing a gay and lesbian GOP group to have a booth at the upcoming state convention and not doing enough to move the event out of Dallas, which they call a “homosexual-friendly location.”

Mechler said he had nothing to do with the decision to allow the group, the Metroplex Republicans, to have a booth at the state GOP convention.

“I understand that hatred has spewed into the chairman’s race,” Mechler said.

Quelle surprise. You can’t spell “zealous hatred of the gays” without the letters H-O-T-Z-E, and indeed this mail was sent by Houston’s gay-hatingest quack. Nothing surprising there, though you may find yourself wondering how in the heck Jared Woodfill could be in a position to fail upward like that. Well, Woodfill as State GOP Chair is indeed a thing that could happen.

Houston’s Jared Woodfill is trying to win control of the Republican Party of Texas, challenging the current management and saying it has been too quiet in the face of legislative defeats in a state government dominated by Republican officeholders and appointees.

The contest between Tom Mechler of Amarillo, the party’s current chairman, and Woodfill, who once led the Harris County GOP, is a fight about purity, about which kinds of conservatives the Texas GOP represents and about what the party is supposed to be doing. They don’t run as combined tickets, but former state party Chairman Cathie Adams is running for vice chair in tandem with Woodfill, while current vice chair Amy Clark is seeking reelection, along with Mechler.

The outcome of the elections, to be held at the GOP’s state convention in Dallas next month, probably isn’t going to change your life, but it’s interesting. Mechler wants the party to bring in more voters — he’s talking about minorities and millennials, among others — who have generally eluded the charms of the GOP. He doesn’t think it’s his job to tell the state’s Republican officeholders what to do.

“Every Republican should be comfortable within the party,” he says. “My vision is and will be that is that this party is welcoming and embracing all conservatives from all over the state of Texas.”

Woodfill is a bully-pulpit guy, a political figure whose effectiveness depends on everything from actual microphones on actual podiums to social media, news media and advertising.

He is appealing for the support of others who, like him, think the state political party should be whipping the Legislature to keep it in line with the GOP platform and the beliefs of Texans in its voting base.

His pitch against the current party leadership seems aimed more at the House than at anyone else. An example from the Facebook page promoting his candidacy: “Friends, we are engaged in a cultural war and our Republican Party of Texas leadership is running from the fight! One need only look at the 2015 legislative sessions to find evidence of the RPT surrendering our values.”

Woodfill focuses on a list of issues that met their demise, he contends, in the Texas House, including bills outlawing references to Sharia law in courts, requiring Texas cities to enforce federal immigration laws, allowing the use or diversion of tax dollars for private school tuition, repealing in-state tuition for the children of undocumented immigrantsnon-citizens who graduate from Texas high schools, and enacting new ethics legislation.

That plays into existing divisions among the Republicans in government, however they are characterized: establishment against insurgents, social conservatives against social moderates, chamber of commerce against grassroots.

The characterization that matters here is that Jared Woodfill is an idiot, and would almost certainly be a terrible state party chair. He’s certainly not going to be about building a party for the future, or one that intends to grow. All of which, needless to say, is fine by me. I’ve said that scandal, in the form of criminality from the likes of Ken Paxton and Sid Miller, may help boost Democratic prospects in Texas in the short term. Incompetent leadership, especially when combined with an unwelcoming attitude towards anyone who isn’t already fully on board with a full slate of ideological shibboleths, would also help. And Lord knows, we Democrats can use all the help we can get. So please do your part, RPT. Please put Jared Woodfill in charge of your party. Thanks.

Video fraudsters to go to trial

All righty then.

Right there with them

Right there with them

David Robert Daleiden, 27, and his colleague, Sandra Susan Merritt, 63, both of California, have rejected a plea deal that would have effectively put an end to the criminal charges against them, their lawyers confirmed Friday.

“I don’t advise my clients to accept responsibility for cases that they haven’t done anything wrong in,” said Dan Cogdell, Merritt’s attorney.

The pair were charged in January with tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony with a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Daleiden also faces a misdemeanor charge of attempting to buy human organs.

After a brief status hearing Friday, attorneys said they will not accept offers of pretrial diversion, a low-level probation that would have allowed the charges against them to be dismissed if they did not break the law for a year. It’s commonly offered by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to first-time offenders with minor charges such as shoplifting.

Earlier this month, attorneys for Daleiden filed motions to quash the indictments against him, arguing that the Harris County grand jury that handed down the indictments was not properly empaneled.

See here and here for the background. The defense has alleged that DA Devon Anderson is in cahoots with Planned Parenthood, the defendants are utterly convinced of their righteousness and are prepared to martyr themselves for their cause. This will be…interesting. There’s no mention of a court date, so we’ll just have to be patient.

It’s a conspiracy!

Oh, noes! Planned Parenthood is in cahoots with the Harris County DA! Run for your lives!

The anti-abortion activist accused of falsifying records to secretly videotape Planned Parenthood officials in Houston is accusing the Harris County district attorney’s office of illegally colluding with the nonprofit.

The allegations were raised in court documents filed Thursday seeking to dismiss the charge against David Robert Daleiden, of Davis, Calif.

[…]

On Thursday, his attorneys filed motions to quash the indictments, saying the Harris County grand jury that handed down the indictments was not properly empaneled.

“The DA’s office has chosen to wage a war on the pro-life movement,” said attorney Jared Woodfill. “We believe there is clear evidence of Planned Parenthood actually colluding with and pushing the District Attorney’s office to move forward with these indictments.”

At a press conference on the courthouse steps that Daleiden did not attend, Woodfill and attorney Terry Yates said the indictments are “fatally flawed.”

The motions filed to quash the felony charge is here, and for the misdemeanor charge is here. I’ve read through the first one, and with the usual reminder that I Am Not A Lawyer, it looks to me like the bulk of the issue being taken is with the grand jury being held over:

The investigation of Planned Parenthood was brought before the 232nd grand jury [in] September [of 2015].

However, at the close of the 2015 term, no action had been taken in the investigation of Planned Parenthood. A grand jury “hold over” order was drafted by the Harris County District Attorney’s office and presented to the 232rd Court for entry on December 16, 2015. (Exhibit “B”). However, in that order, the prosecutor failed to specifically state or articulate any specific individual or case that the grand jury was holding over to investigate. The order recites boilerplate language set forth in Section 19.07 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure; however, due to the lack of specificity required the order is deficient.

From there, they complain that evidence from the grand jury hearings was provided to lawyers for Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation, including video evidence that was supposed to be covered by a temporary restraining order, and that Daleiden’s lawyers were never notified that he had become a target of the investigation. They cite various mainstream media accounts published after Daleiden and Merritt were indicted as evidence of this.

I’ll leave it to the attorneys in attendance to comment on the claims made by Woodfill and Yates. My layman’s impression is that hold over grand juries are fairly routine – whether they need specific instructions about who or what is being investigated is not something I know – and as for the alleged collusion, I kind of have a hard time believing the lawyers involved, including the assistant DAs, would be that stupid if this was indeed something shady. I would also note that Tamara Tabo, who unlike me is a lawyer and who also unlike me opposes abortion, believes it is clear that Daleiden did indeed break the law. Which doesn’t mean that the indictments weren’t compromised and won’t be tossed, but it is worth keeping in mind. Woodfill and Yates aren’t arguing Daleiden isn’t guilty of anything, they’re arguing the process went bad. I can’t wait to see what the judge makes of this. The Trib, which supplied the defendant’s motions, and the Press have more.

Video fraudsters offered probation

First the one, on Wednesday.

Right there with them

Right there with them

A California woman charged last week for her role in the production of undercover videos at a Houston Planned Parenthood clinic will be offered probation, a Harris County prosecutor said in court.

Sandra Susan Merritt, of San Jose, Calif., appeared in court Wednesday morning on charges of tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony which carried a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

[…]

On Wednesday, Merritt made her bail, was processed by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and turned herself in to state District Judge Brock Thomas. Dressed in her regular clothes, she appeared with a team of defense attorneys. She was also accompanied to and from the court by a handful of sheriff’s deputies because of the intense media scrutiny the case has generated, according to one official.

Merritt, who sat in the gallery with supporters, did not appear before the judge or speak in court. During a scheduling conference at the bench, Assistant District Attorney Sunni Mitchell said she is not considered a flight risk. The prosecutor said Merritt will be offered pre-trial diversion, a form of probation that typically does not require a guilty plea or stringent conditions. Typically reserved for low-level non-violent first offenders, like shoplifters, a suspect is diverted out of the court system. If they stay out of trouble, the charges are eventually dismissed. Merritt’s case was rescheduled until next month to work out the parameters of her probation.

Officials with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office would not discuss whether Daleiden would be offered a similar deal when he appears in court Thursday.

They did offer him a similar deal, and he rejected it.

Anti-abortion activist David Daleiden, one of the videographers indicted after infiltrating a Houston Planned Parenthood facility, on Thursday rejected prosecutors’ offer of a probation deal, according to his attorney.

[…]

County prosecutors this week offered both activists pre-trial diversion, a form of probation. But Daleiden rejected the offer and plans to fight the charges, said attorney Jared Woodfill. It’s unclear whether Merritt has accepted or rejected the deal.

[…]

Pre-trial diversion, a sort of probation, is offered to many first-time nonviolent offenders. If offenders keep a clean record for a predetermined length of time, their charges can be dismissed. Prosecutors have not drawn up a specific contract and conditions for Daleiden and Merritt.

Don’t bother. He ain’t taking it, whatever it is.

“The only thing we’re going to accept is an apology,” said Daleiden’s defense attorney Terry Yates. “We believe the indictments are factually and legally insufficient.”

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson responded that she has offered the videographer and his associate, Sandra Susan Merritt, 62, of San Jose, Calif., an “exit from their legal predicament.”

She also accused the activists of using their criminal charges to grandstand in a case that has drawn national attention due to heated opinions on both sides of the abortion debate.

“Currently, no evidence has been presented to me that gives me legal grounds to dismiss the indictments against Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt,” she said by email. “Among those familiar with criminal prosecution, my offer would be immediately accepted as ‘an offer you can’t refuse;’ unless of course, your goal is not to avoid prosecution, but rather to keep the circus going and going.”

[…]

“It’s unusual because a pre-trial diversion is a pretty sweet outcome for an alleged felony,” said Geoffrey Corn, a professor at South Texas College of Law. He said Daleiden could have several reasons for refusing the offer, including believing that the law is not justified, that a jury would never convict him or that being convicted would add significance to his anti-abortion crusade.

“This guy thinks that what he did is morally justified,” Corn said. “Every now and then you encounter a defendant who, for whatever reason, says ‘I don’t believe in the law.'”

It’s more than fine by me that Daleiden rejected this offer, because I want them to be convicted of something, and I think their “we’re journalists and we did what journalists do” defense is deeply flawed. They don’t need to have jail time – honestly, this is not the sort of crime that really calls for jail time – but there needs to be an example set, to at least make any future copycats think twice. The reason why a conviction really matters is because the real potential for punishment will come from the civil courts, and nothing will help the various lawsuits against these clowns like a guilty plea or verdict. I’m not surprised that Daleiden rejected the plea – these people are believers, and I suspect more than willing to play the martyr – and I won’t be surprised if Merritt does as well. And if/when that happens, I want to see them nailed at trial.

How the tables got turned on the video fraudsters

A must read.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Planned Parenthood’s legal strategy was in some ways similar to how corporations facing major white-collar criminal investigations often cooperate closely with prosecutors to try to influence the outcome.

From the start, Planned Parenthood and its Houston lawyer Josh Schaffer settled on a strategy of cooperating with investigators, said Rochelle Tafolla, a spokeswoman for the affiliate. It included volunteering documents and encouraging prosecutors to interview employees, as well as giving prosecutors tours of the Houston facility, according to Schaffer.

“We certainly began the process as suspects of a crime, and the tables got turned and we ended up victims of a crime,” Schaffer told Reuters in an interview.

Schaffer was retained by Planned Parenthood last summer when Texas officials demanded it face a criminal investigation after the anti-abortion activists posted videos online purporting to show the organization’s employees discussing the sale of aborted fetal tissue, which is illegal in the United States if done for a profit.

[…]

Although what happened during the grand jury’s secret deliberations may never be known, Schaffer said it did not vote on whether to indict Planned Parenthood.

That is because the grand jury’s focus shifted to a case against the anti-abortion campaigners, Schaffer said on a conference call with reporters, citing information he said he received from a prosecutor.

Planned Parenthood said that Daleiden and Merritt used fake driver’s licenses in April 2015 when they posed as executives from a fictitious company to secretly film conversations at the Houston facility. That led to the charges they used fake government documents with the intent to defraud.

One critical juncture in the case may have occurred when Planned Parenthood gave law enforcement an important tip: Merritt’s true name, according to Schaffer.

Her identity remained unknown from the time she visited Planned Parenthood with a fake California driver’s license until about December when Daleiden revealed it during a deposition as part of a separate civil lawsuit in state court in Los Angeles, Schaffer said.

As part of his strategy, Schaffer said he explicitly pushed prosecutors to charge Daleiden and Merritt.

“I made the argument regarding the charges that the grand jury returned,” Schaffer said in the interview, “but I did not have to make them very forcefully because it was self-evident to the prosecutors that they engaged in this conduct.”

Fascinating, and I expect it will just enrage the people who are already losing their minds over this, but as I said before a lie can only be sustained for so long. Sooner or later, you have to put your cards on the table. It’s not like we couldn’t have guessed that these guys were liars – there’s a long evidence trail of people like them saying and doing similar things. It’s not even the first time that DA Devon Anderson has been called upon to investigate some wild claims about an abortion provider that turned out to be complete fabrications and lurid fantasies. It’s one thing to believe these stories even though the objective evidence suggests they’re too outrageous to be true (as Daniel Davies has said, there’s no fancy Latin phrase for giving a known liar the benefit of the doubt), but it’s another thing entirely (as Fred Clark often reminds us) to want to believe them, to fervently hope that they really are true, and to keep on believing them even when any reasonable person knows they are not true.

Which brings us to the fraudsters’ defense attorneys, who have their own impossible things to believe.

“We believe this is a runaway grand jury that has acted contrary to the law,” former Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill told reporters Wednesday. “They’ve gone after the whistle-blowers.”

Woodfill and prominent criminal defense attorney Terry Yates announced they will represent the two activists and said their defense will turn on First Amendment protections afforded to undercover journalists and focus on the activists’ “intent” when they created fake identifications and offered to buy fetal tissue from a Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast office last year.

On Wednesday, Woodfill and Yates conceded that Daleiden, 27, and Merritt, 62, used fake California driver’s licenses to conceal their identities to gain entry to Planned Parenthood offices and corresponded with officials.

“These are techniques that investigative journalists have used for years,” Woodfill said. “If they were to criminalize this conduct, most investigative journalists would be prosecuted for doing the exact same or similar things.”

Fred Brown, an ethics expert for the Society of Professional Journalists, said reporters rarely falsify their identities and said it is “frowned upon.”

“It should be considered a last resort and it’s not really ethical,” Brown said.

Most major newspapers have rules against reporters concealing their identities or using fake names.

Law professor Eugene Volokh would take issue with what Woodfill says, too. It’s interesting to read the story and see how many times they retracted or walked back something they initially asserted. The amount of mental gymnastics they are doing must be quite tiresome.

One more thing:

Daleiden also is charged with trying to purchase human organs, namely fetal tissue, a Class A misdemeanor.

Woodfill scoffed at the charge, saying, “It’s going to be very difficult for prosecutors to say that they intended to actually purchase human body parts.”

Um, wasn’t the whole point of their exercise to prove that body parts were being sold? How could they do that if they didn’t also believe they could buy them? I know, that’s not quite the same as “intent” in a legal sense, but I think their story will be a little harder for a jury to believe if the claim is they were just trying to get Planned Parenthood to give them their price list. Murray Newman, the Wall Street Journal, the Press, Campos, and David Ortez have more.

More HERO public information requests

The bullying continues.

He’s a bully!

Does President Barack Obama regularly drop a line to Houston City Council members?

Probably not, but we could soon find out, thanks to a public records request that opponents of the city’s equal rights ordinance, known as HERO, filed this week. It’s a response to a public records request that a nonprofit filed earlier this month seeking correspondence between members that voted down the city’s equal rights ordinance and national anti-LGBT groups.

At the time, Councilman Michael Kubosh called a press conference to denounce the request, saying he was particularly upset that just the six council members that voted against the law, not the full council, were subject to the request. He called it “bullying.”

A week later, however, HERO opponents have taken the same approach. In a request filed Wednesday, conservative lawyer Jared Woodfill sought all communication between pro-HERO council members and a slew of local and national figures and groups, most pro-LGBT.

Fourth on the list, sandwiched between Mayor Annise Parker and the Human Rights Campaign, is Obama. Presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders along with mayor-elect Sylvester Turner are also included.

See here for the background. I’m sure CMs Kubosh and Martin will be holding a press conference to denounce this bit of bullying any minute now. Or maybe we’ve all managed to get a grip and recognize that this is just normal politics and nothing to get upset about. Regardless, I expect this request to have about the same effect as the other one, which is to say, not much. But at least everyone will have gotten it out of their system.

Just leave already

Seriously.

State GOP leaders, in a predictable but closely watched vote, have defeated a proposal to ask Texas voters whether they favor secession.

In a voice vote Saturday afternoon, the State Republican Executive Committee rejected a measure that would have put the issue on the March 1 primary ballot. The ballot language would have been non-binding, amounting to a formal survey of voters on whether they would like to see Texas declare its independence from the United States.

While the proposal’s defeat was expected, the measure had sparked some heated debate on the 60-member executive committee, the governing body of the Republican Party of Texas. Seeking to avoid a protracted fight, the executive committee voted earlier Saturday afternoon to cap discussion of the issue at 30 minutes then put it to an up-or-down vote.

Tanya Robertson, the SREC member who introduced the proposal, argued at the executive committee meeting in Austin that the measure would have been “harmless,” allowing voters to register an “opinion only.” She also suggested the ballot language would have helped “get out the vote” among some Texas Republicans who have been sitting out recent elections.

“The goal of these is to take a thermometer of how Texans feels about an issue, and what better issue for Texans to do that with?” she asked.

See here for some background. I fully support Tanya Robertson and all her likeminded colleagues leaving the country if it’s not to their liking. I merely object to them trying to take me with them. Sorry you didn’t get your vote, Tanya, but seriously: No one is stopping you from leaving. It’s a big world, I’m sure there’s some other part of it that will be better for you.

One more thing:

Earlier Saturday, the executive committee defeated another controversial proposal, one in favor of moving the party’s 2016 convention from Dallas to Houston. The proposal, which was shot down in a nearly unanimous vote, was inspired by opposition to Dallas’ updated non-discrimination ordinance. Leading the charge to relocate the convention was Jared Woodfill, a key figure in the successful effort to repeal a similar law in Houston and a potential challenger to Texas GOP Chairman Tom Mechler.

It is never wrong to point out that Jared Woodfill is an idiot.

What next for HERO?

Before I get into some thoughts about how to approach a second attempt at passing a non-discrimination ordinance for Houston, let me begin by dispensing with this.

HoustonUnites

2. HERO Will Be Back

The lopsided defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) will send the next mayor and city council back to the drawing board at the start of 2016. They would be expected to, in relatively short order, pass a new Houston Equal Rights Ordinance that is very similar to the ordinance that was just repealed, with one principal exception. The revised version of the ordinance would modify the public accommodation component of the repealed ordinance so that it does not apply to discrimination based on biological sex in regard to access to private facilities such as restrooms, locker rooms and showers.

A relatively expeditious passage of this revised equal rights ordinance would ameliorate, though not entirely erase, the short-term negative impact of the lopsided “No” victory on Houston’s image nationwide. The rapid adoption of this new ordinance also would largely eliminate the risk of Houston losing conventions, sporting events, corporate relocations and corporate investment as a consequence of the Nov. 3 HERO repeal. And, since this new equal rights ordinance would address the principal public critique of the “No” campaign, it would be virtually bulletproof against any future repeal efforts.

All due respect, but that gives way way waaaaaaaaaaay too much credit to the leaders of the anti-HERO movement. The people behind this – Woodfill, Hotze, the Pastors Council – have a deep-seated loathing of Mayor Parker and the LGBT community in general, which is what drove their opposition to HERO. Changing the wording in the ordinance in this fashion would not suddenly turn them into fair-minded and honorable opponents who would have engaged in a debate on the merits of this law. That’s not who they are, that’s not what they do, and thinking that making some sort of “reasonable” accommodation to them would be rewarded with reasonable behavior on their part is as deeply naive as thinking that if President Obama had just tried to accommodate Republican concerns about the Affordable Care Act then no one would have ever screamed about death panels. The way to beat people like this is to make it clear to everyone watching that they are the raving lunatics we know them to be. If there’s a way to insert some legalese into HERO 2.0 to make it double secret illegal for anyone to harass and assault people in bathrooms while still providing protection for people who just need to pee to do their business, then fine. Do that for the sake of having the talking point. Just don’t fall for the idea that this somehow “takes the issue off the table” or forces the opposition to behave like rational beings.

Now on to the main discussion.

As supporters of Houston’s equal rights ordinance pieced together how the law came to suffer such an overwhelming defeat at the polls Tuesday, political scientists and even some campaign supporters pointed to what they said was a key misstep: poor outreach to black voters.

Majority black City Council districts were among those most decisively rejecting the law Tuesday, including District B and District D, where 72 percent and 65 percent of voters, respectively, opted to repeal the law. Overall, complete but unofficial results showed 61 percent of voters against the law and 39 percent for it.

Heading into the election, polling showed black voters, traditionally more socially conservative, were the most likely to be undecided on the issue, said Bob Stein, a Rice University political scientist.

In the same polling, supporters did best with black voters when they presented the argument that repealing the ordinance would jeopardize the city’s economy and events such as the Super Bowl and NCAA.

Well, Houston will not be getting the college football championship game in the next few years, though the committee making that decision says local politics had nothing to do with it. San Antonio’s bid for the game was also denied, so I’d tend to believe that. Neither the Final Four nor the Super Bowl appear to be going anywhere, which is what I would expect – these are big events that take a lot of time to plan and execute and thus aren’t easily relocated, and I never believed that NFL owners would embarrass a fellow member of their club like that. A big national outcry might have an effect, but I seriously doubt Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance is on enough people’s radar for that. While I do believe that the HERO rejection will make it harder for Houston to land events like these going forward – the NCAA spokesperson vaguely alluded to that in the statement about the Final Four – this was always my concern about making such specific claims, given that we had no control over them.

Monica Roberts, a transgender black woman and GLBT activist, called the Houston Unites effort a “whitewashed campaign” that failed to adequately respond to the bathroom issue and reach out to the black community in a meaningful way.

On her popular blog, TransGriot, she wrote that the warning signs that the law could go down by a significant margin were present early on.”

“The Black LGBT community and our allies have been warning for months that action was needed in our community IMMEDIATELY or else HERO was going down to defeat,” she wrote. “We pleaded for canvassing in our neighborhoods, pro-HERO ads on Houston Black radio stations and hard hitting attacks to destroy the only card our haters had to play in the bathroom meme.”

But even ads featuring Houston NAACP president James Douglas endorsing the ordinance were not enough to erode critics’ lead with black voters.

Douglas said he was hesitant to comment on what might have worked with black voters because he had not seen the results broken out by precinct.

“I’m not sure what supporters could have done,” Douglas said. “Most of the people I’ve talked to said it was all about the restroom fear. They literally see it as ‘I don’t want that to happen to someone that I know.'”

Councilman Jerry Davis, who represents the majority black District B that includes Fifth Ward and Acres Homes, said outreach in the black community was simply “way too little, way too late.”

Davis is among the 11 council members who voted in favor of the law. As he visited polling sites in his district Tuesday, he said residents’ skepticism about the ordinance had not budged during the past year.

“You can’t win this debate at the polls; it’s too late,” Davis said. “Voters were confused. They wanted to understand that this was an equal rights law, that it would help them. But instead they couldn’t get this visual out of their heads of a man entering a woman’s restroom. Opponents told that story over and over and over again until it was too late for Houston Unites.”

University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said opponents were first out of the gates with their messaging, framing the debate around the bathroom issue, and supporters never caught up.

“The pro-HERO folks needed to have a public face much earlier than they did,” Rottinghaus said. “There was no personality to HERO, and I think that hurt the pro-HERO folks because it wasn’t clear what people were voting in favor of.”

This is the discussion now, and there was a lot of it happening behind the scenes before. I’m going to address it by talking about what I’d like to see happen for the next time.

By now we know that many African-American voters supported Sylvester Turner and voted against HERO. That’s disheartening, but it does provide a way forward. If elected, Mayor Turner would start out with a much higher level of trust and goodwill with these voters than Mayor Parker (who never received a significant level of support in African-American precincts) ever had. He will have an opening and an opportunity to bring forth another version of HERO (modified as needed with whatever legal mumbo-jumbo about bathrooms) and restart the discussion. This is how I would suggest going about it:

1. Acknowledge what happened, and assert the need to try again. I have no doubt that Sylvester Turner is capable of delivering a speech that acknowledges the problems with HERO that led to its defeat at the ballot box, while simultaneously emphasizing the need for our city to have an ordinance in place that does what HERO did. He could do this as part of his inaugural address, or he could wait for the State of the City in April, but sooner would be better than later. Acknowledge what happened, state the need for action, and call on everyone to join him.

2. Get out of City Hall and bring the conversation to the neighborhoods. Have a Council hearing in Acres Homes and/or Sunnyside. Have community meetings in multiple places all over the city (like Metro did with bus system reimagining) like multi-service centers and schools and wherever else is suitable, with some during the day and some in the evening and some on weekends to accommodate people’s work schedules. Have a brief presentation up front, then devote most of the time to letting the attendees speak so you can answer their questions and hear their concerns and address any good points they bring up that you hadn’t previously thought of. Mayor Turner himself needs to lead these meetings and make it clear that he supports doing this and is asking the people in attendance to join him. Note that I’m not just suggesting African-American neighborhoods for these meetings, either. Have them in Latino neighborhoods, and in Alief and out on Harwin and Bellaire Boulevard. Have plenty of folks who speak Spanish and Vietnamese and Chinese with you, and make sure any printed and electronic materials are multi-lingual as well. If we’re not talking to the people, we can’t complain if someone else is.

3. Roll out an advertising campaign along with this ongoing conversation. We know that the antis had a messaging advantage because they got their ads out first and we had to respond. They were already organized by the time the Supreme Court stuck their nose into things, while we had to get up and going from scratch. We can’t let that happen again. The next version of HERO needs to be sold from the beginning, so we can be the ones to set the tone and the message. In this day and age, that means setting up a PAC, tapping a few deep pockets to fund it, and getting going with the ads, for TV and radio and print and the Internet and whatever else you can think of. Treat it like a campaign, because that’s what it is. If the complaint from this election is that too many people didn’t know what HERO actually did, then this is the way to make sure that doesn’t happen with HERO 2.0. Be very clear and very thorough about who is protected, how it works, why we need it, and so forth. By all means, lean heavily on the business and economic argument, though as noted above be careful on the specifics. The lack of this kind of campaign has been a problem with lots of legislative initiatives in recent years – Obamacare and Renew Houston, for instance. There’s plenty of news about them while they’re being done, but the vast majority of communication to people who don’t consume a lot of news comes from opponents, not supporters. That can’t happen this time. Sell it like a new product coming to market, and sell the hell out of it.

4. Mayor Turner has to be the face of all this. Am I the only one who has noticed that Mayor Parker was largely invisible during the pro-HERO campaign? I’m sure some of that is because of a wholly understandable desire on her part to stay out of the Mayor’s race, and some of that was a strategic calculation that having her front and center would not be an asset in African-American neighborhoods. Whatever the case, this is the Mayor’s initiative, and the Mayor needs to be the focal point for it. Given that a lot of the people he would need to persuade to support this proposal are already supporters of his, there’s no other way to do this.

Now it may well be that a Mayor Turner will not be terribly enthusiastic about spending his time and political capital on this issue. There are plenty of other things on his to-do list, and there’s only so much time in the day/week/year. It’s going to be on HERO supporters to hold his feet to the fire and get him to devote time and energy to this. HERO may have lost this week, but Sylvester Turner isn’t going to win in December without a big showing from HERO proponents, and I’m sure he knows that. I’m sure he also knows that the business community is concerned and is expecting him to take action on this. The time to act is sooner rather than later, but it won’t happen without a push.

Does this guarantee a better outcome? Of course not. The haters will never go away, and some number of people we’d like to persuade won’t buy it. Some people will argue to wait till some undetermined later date when the things they deem to be higher priorities have been solved to their satisfaction, and others will come up with new and more egregious lies to tell. I’m sure there are things I’m not thinking of, and I’m sure some of the things I’m suggesting are much easier said than done. I think we all agree that for all the good work that Houston Unites and others did, there were things that could have been done differently. Some of that was a lack of time, thanks to the Supreme Court ruling. No one knew we needed to be prepared to wage a campaign like this. All I’m saying is that this time we do know, so we may as well start preparing for it. Danny Surman, who has another perspective on what happened, has more.

The animus that drives HERO opposition

I have often spoken of my contempt for the leaders of the HERO opposition, for their lying and their willingness to demonize their fellow man. There are a number of people who deserve that scorn, but this guy belongs up at the top.

When conservative firebrand Dr. Steven Hotze unsheathed a sword in August while speaking at a conservative rally that doubled as a campaign launch against Houston’s nondiscrimination ordinance, even some politically aligned with the longtime anti-gay activist were taken aback.

In an incendiary, lengthy address, Hotze went on to link America’s war against Nazi Germany to the war on gay rights, urging all gay Houstonians to flee to San Francisco. The sword, he said, was meant to represent God’s word, the strongest weapon against the gay community.

“The homosexuals are hate-mongers,” Hotze said at the time. “They hate God, they hate God’s word, they hate Christ, they hate anything that’s good and wholesome and right. They want to pervert everything.”

But since the speech, which played out on Twitter and drew media attention, Hotze largely has dulled his rhetoric against gay rights, at least when it comes to the equal rights ordinance now before voters. Instead, Hotze quietly has bankrolled opponents and stuck to the campaign’s biggest talking point: that the law would allow men, including sexual predators, into women’s restrooms.

This message is notable for its stridency and for what ordinance supporters say is its fear-mongering inaccuracy, but also because it shunts aside Hotze’s decades-long war against gays and lesbians. The campaign instead aims only at transgender residents, and in particular transgender women, who were born male but identify as female.

Evidence suggests the strategy is a politically savvy one.

Despite recent social and legal victories for gays and lesbians – from growing public acceptance to earning the right last June to marry in any state – research and polling data show transgender residents are starting from nearly scratch. Supporters say that makes the protections extended to transgender residents under the law even more crucial.

“Transgender people are at least 20 years behind the larger gay and lesbian community in terms of public understanding and acceptance,” said Michael Silverman, director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. “The vast majority of Americans still report that they do not know anyone who is openly transgender. That lack of knowledge and lack of acceptance creates a gap that our opponents attempt to fill with misleading information designed to scare people.”

[…]

Opponents’ targeted approach is the one they must take, said ACLU of Texas director Terri Burke, having been forced by growing acceptance to abandon anti-gay rhetoric.

That Hotze has been relatively muted on the issue of sexual orientation in recent months is in stark contrast to his approach when City Council passed the law 11-6 last year. While opponents were gathering thousands of signatures in an effort to force a repeal referendum, Hotze emailed conservative Steven Baer and cast the law as part of a “tide of homosexual perversion sweeping over the country,” according to emails obtained by the Chronicle.

Hotze, through Woodfill, declined to be interviewed for this story.

“Let’s collaborate and join forces. Houston, Texas is ground zero on this issue,” he wrote. “We will repeal the pro-homosexual ordinance here and breath fire into the hearts of our brethren across Texas and the nation.”

See also this story, which looks at this from the perspective of being transgender. People who oppose HERO have a variety of reasons for doing so. I don’t find any of those reasons meritorious, but some of them are more respectable than others. But whatever one’s reason may be for opposing HERO, this is what the rest of the country will hear and internalize if HERO is defeated. I don’t know about you, but if I opposed HERO for some technical reason that had nothing to do with Steve Hotze’s seething hatred, the fact that I was nonetheless on the same side as Steve Hotze would make me awfully uncomfortable. You may say that it’s not fair for you and your reasonable objections to HERO to be lumped with a raving maniac like Hotze. Well, last I checked life wasn’t fair, and so unless you’re out there publicly denouncing the likes of Hotze and his hate, how is anyone who doesn’t know you to tell the difference? I guarantee you, there are only two possible post-referendum narratives that will appear in the media. One is that Houston beat back an effort to repeal its equal rights ordinance. The other is that anti-gay groups prevailed in their effort to repeal said ordinance, with the likes of Hotze and Jared Woodfill and Dave Wilson out there in the spotlight getting the attention and becoming for at least a little while the public face of our town. If you don’t like that idea, then the one thing you can do about it is not be on their side when you go vote. Because if you are on their side when you vote, your own reasons for doing so won’t matter. No one’s going to hear you when you try to explain.

Who cares about Bob McNair?

Another bad decision.

HoustonUnites

Houston Texans owner Bob McNair donated $10,000 this week to opponents of the city’s embattled equal rights ordinance, entering the political fray over the law headed to voters in November.

McNair, a frequent GOP donor, mailed the $10,000 check to opponents earlier this week, according to Campaign for Houston spokesman Jared Woodfill. He said the donation “was very exciting for us.”

Critics of the law, largely Christian conservatives, object to the non-discrimination protections it extends to gay and transgender residents — the law also lists 13 other protected groups. Supporters of the ordinance, including Mayor Annise Parker, have warned that repealing the law could damage the city’s economy and could jeopardize high-profile events such as Houston’s 2017 Super Bowl.

Woodfill pushed back on that notion Wednesday.

“The HERO supporters have tried to scare people into believing that we would lose the Super Bowl,” Woodfill said. “Obviously, if there were any truth behind that, Bob McNair wouldn’t’ be donating to the folks that are opposed to the ordinance.”

Here’s the longer version of the story. As Campos notes, there is something to that. I’ve always been skeptical about claims we could lose the Super Bowl if HERO is voted down for the simple reason that logistically, it would be very hard to do and would inconvenience a lot of people. The NFL doesn’t want to do that unless it absolutely has to, and I don’t think there would be enough of a national outcry to make that happen. What I do expect is that a defeat for HERO would jeopardize our chances of landing other big events, sporting and otherwise, and would likely cause some planners of events that are already on the calendar here, at the George R. Brown and big hotels, to reconsider and find alternate options.

So Woodfill gets a symbolic trophy, for whatever good it does him. It would be nice if this story went national, as a lot of other HERO-related news has done, as it might put a little heat on McNair and generally serve as bad publicity for him and his team. The Texans aren’t exactly a revered franchise outside of Houston, so a little ridicule there could go a long way. In the meantime, this story appeared in the paper the same day that this full-page ad ran in the local section:

HoustonBusinessLeadersEndorseHERO

For those who have been trying to claim that HERO is only of concern to the LGBT community, note the presence there of the NAACP, the Greater Houston Black Chamber, the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and among the individuals, the President of the Houston Urban League, Judson Robinson III. There was also this in my feeds from yesterday:

As the Texas director of AARP, a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization for all persons age 50 and older, I am proud that this Association — with 38 million members, including more than 2.2 million in Texas — believes firmly in the fundamental right of all people to be free from discrimination.

Approval of HERO by voters would help ensure that Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, provides its residents and visitors with an environment free of discrimination based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy.

There are lots of people talking about why HERO matters, to them and to the city. The Houston Area Women’s Center has been heavily involved to help debunk the dangerous and pernicious falsehoods that liars like Jared Woodfill have been spreading, now with the assistance of a fool like Bob McNair. The Press has more.

Business groups get into the HERO campaign

Welcome to the table, fellas.

HoustonUnites

Three major local business and hospitality groups are warning voters that the city’s economy could take a hit if Houston’s embattled equal rights ordinance is repealed in November, boosting supporters’ attempts to cast the law as not only a moral issue but also a practical one.

The Greater Houston Partnership, Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau and Hotel and Lodging Association of Greater Houston released a joint statement Thursday backing the ordinance and calling Houston “a diverse and welcoming city.”

“Discrimination of any kind is not a Houston value; it’s bad for the people of our city and it’s bad for our economy,” the statement read.

[…]

Though the Partnership originally expressed reservations about early drafts of the law, it eventually publicly supported the ordinance before City Council passed it 11-6 last year. A.J. Mistretta, a spokesman for the Visitors Bureau, said Partnership President Bob Harvey encouraged the group to issue the joint statement.

Houston Unites campaign manager Richard Carlbom said the groups’ support demonstrates a desire in the business community to remain competitive with other large cities that already have similar nondiscrimination policies in place.

“If this gets repealed, I think a lot of folks will look at Houston and wonder if they should send employees here or hold conferences here,” Carlbom said. “They will wonder whether or not there are the appropriate protections in place.”

The argument is not new. Mayor Annise Parker and other officials long have warned that Houston’s selection to host the 2017 Super Bowl and the 2016 NCAA Final Four, for instance, could be in jeopardy if the law is repealed.

“Houston simply isn’t the City it was 20 or 30 years ago,” Parker said last month. “It is this open and inclusive atmosphere that helps make Houston attractive to new residents, new business, major sporting events like the Super Bowl and more. The ongoing effort by this group threatens to hurt that image and our progress.”

Gotta say, I was a little afraid that the GHP was going to sit on its hands during the campaign, and let others do the heavy lifting. I’m delighted to be proven wrong about that, though I hope this statement isn’t the extent of their involvement. And again, however you feel about HERO, if you think there won’t be consequences if it gets repealed, you’re kidding yourself. We can argue about what the extent of the consequences might be, and whether or not the Super Bowl and Final Four are really in jeopardy – I personally don’t think the NFL or NCAA would move them on that short notice, but for sure we’d be out of the running for future events like those, and other already-scheduled events could get canceled – but the question is not “if” but “how much”. I would like for the GHP to reinforce that message as much as possible. And just as a reminder, despite what the likes of Jared Woodfill and Ben Hall would like you to believe, HERO is about a lot more than bathrooms.

The anti-HERO horde

There’s a lot of them out there, though many of them claim their mostly last-minute filings didn’t really have to do with HERO.

HoustonUnites

Members of the anti-HERO campaign and other prominent conservative activists disputed suggestions of a widely-coordinated effort, saying the candidates ended up on the ballot for a variety of reasons.

“We have been approached by candidates who oppose the bathroom ordinance,” said Jared Woodfill, spokesman for the anti-HERO campaign. “And we have encouraged people to run who oppose the bathroom ordinance, as have other organizations who have the same goal of defeating the ordinance.”

[…]

Of City Council members running for re-election, five oppose the ordinance, which applies to businesses that serve the public, private employers, housing, city employment and city contracting, though not religious institutions. Violators could be fined up to $5,000.

They are joined by at least 11 council hopefuls, many of whom launched their bids before it became clear the ordinance would be on the ballot.

Others, such as pastors Willie Davis and Kendall Baker, as well as former teacher Manny Barrera and Siemens sales executive Carl Jarvis, filed to run on the last day.

Most of the last-minute candidates said they launched their bids for reasons other than the ordinance, listing city finances, infrastructure and incumbents’ records among their motivations.

Candidates and charlatans like Jared Woodfill and Dave Welch who enable them can say what they want about why they chose to run. How they run and what they ultimately talk about is what you need to know. While the story goes to great length to discuss candidates who may or may not have been motivated to run by opposition to HERO and those that encouraged them, I should note that there are a few candidates on the ballot who cited the opposition to HERO by an incumbent as a motivating factor for them – Doug Peterson and John LaRue in At Large #3, and Philippe Nassif in At Large #5. You can listen to their interviews (Philippe’s will be up tomorrow) to hear what else they had to say, which in all three cases definitely did go beyond this issue.

Beyond that, I don’t think the presence of some extra candidates makes that much difference in terms of outcomes. Turnout will be driven by the Mayor’s race and the HERO referendum. Obviously, some candidates are going to tie themselves to the referendum, one way or the other, but given the high undervote rates for At Large candidates, I’m not sure how much difference that will make. It’s certainly possible that this election will be unlike all the others, and it’s certainly possible that some HERO haters will get into a runoff. If you’re an even-years-only voter, I’d expect to be targeted in a way that you’re not used to in these odd years. How it all shakes out, I have no idea. Polling is going to be tricky, since turnout will be anyone’s guess. I don’t think we’ll have much of an idea about how things are going until voting actually starts. Don’t take anything for granted – get involved, and help make a difference.

First anti-HERO radio ad airs

Here it comes.

HoustonUnites

In the ad, a young woman talks about the perceived threat to public safety the ordinance presents. Critics have long asserted that the broad non-discrimination law, which includes protections for gay and transgender residents, would allow male sexual predators dressed in drag to enter women’s restrooms.

A heated legal battle between opponents seeking to place the law on the ballot and the city ended with a Texas Supreme Court decision in late July ordering City Council to either repeal the law or vote to affirm it and place on the November ballot. After a 12-5 vote, City Council opted for the latter.

The two-week, $100,000 buy will air on several radio stations, including Mix 96.5, Sunny 99.1, KNTH AM 1070 and the conservative KSEV Radio.

In the ad, an unidentified woman says that she would like to give birth to a child in Houston but is concerned about the equal rights law.

“There are already federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination against pregnant women, but this ordinance will allow men to freely go into women’s bathrooms, locker rooms and showers. That is filthy, that is disgusting and that is unsafe,” the ad states.

The Houston Unites campaign, supporters of the ordinance, responded to the ad in a written statement Monday dismissing the message. The campaign has yet to make any media buys, but manager Richard Carlbom has said the group will hit the airwaves and TV in the coming months.

“The ad is vulgar and grossly misleading. Nothing in the equal rights ordinance changes the fact that it is – and always will be – illegal to enter a restroom to harm or harass other people. And the ad leaves out the fact that the law protects tens of thousands of Houstonians from job discrimination based on their race, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability,” the statement said.

It’s all of those things and more, but that doesn’t mean the ad won’t be effective. This is exactly what I expected from the HERO haters, and it’s why I was hoping the pro-HERO forces would have something out first. It’s hard to dislodge that kind of fear once it takes hold; facts just don’t get you very far. If any of these radio stations are ones you listen to, by all means feel free to contact them and tell them that you don’t approve of this dishonest and hurtful ad. If the ad really makes you mad, get in touch with Houston Unites and find something you can do to help protect HERO in November. PDiddie has more.

UPDATE: The Press and Lisa Falkenberg add on.

The contours of the HERO fight

We’ll see how this goes.

HoustonUnites

When City Council sent Houston’s embattled equal rights ordinance to the November ballot two weeks ago, the vote raised the curtain on dueling campaigns that had been bracing in the wings for a political showdown more than a year in the making.

Council’s 12-5 vote to affirm the ordinance and place it on the ballot, part of a Texas Supreme Court order, followed months of heated back-and-forth in City Hall and various Harris County courtrooms. By the next week, campaign managers had been selected, ads were drafted and pollsters were working to take the pulse of voters.

Supporters quickly appealed to Houston-native and superstar Beyoncé on Twitter for a plug. Opponents, meanwhile, touted presidential candidate Rand Paul’s remarks during the national GOP debates chiding Mayor Annise Parker, though not by name, for a political fumble during the court case surrounding the law. Both camps warned that the eyes of the nation are on Houston.

Political scientists, however, said that is a tad dramatic; unless the law is repealed, the fight over Houston’s non-discrimination law will amount to a largely local affair bolstered by some national money.

Opponents will push a public safety campaign driven by the perceived threat that male sexual predators dressed in drag will use the law as cover to enter women’s restrooms. Supporters, meanwhile, will seek to debunk that and warn that repealing the law would irreparably harm the city’s image.

Both groups said they will need to spend at least $2 million to pepper voters with targeted direct mail and a few choice ads.

“HERO will be competing head to head with the mayoral election for oxygen and energy,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. “There’s only so much space in an election like this, and a lot of that space is going to be occupied by HERO because it’s a charged issue. It’s going to make it even more difficult for down-ballot races to emerge and obtain the attention of voters.”

[…]

At dueling launch events last week, both sides offered a glimpse of the campaigns to come.

On Wednesday, equal rights ordinance supporters unveiled the “Houston Unites” campaign.

Leslie Jackson, the minister of education at Cathedral of Hope church in Midtown, said opponents “confuse religious freedom with the freedom to discriminate.”

“Religious faith does not undermine the value of equality for all under the law,” Jackson said. “Religious faith demands it. As a Christian minister, I must oppose misguided efforts to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.”

The task for supporters, Campaign Manager Richard Carlbom said, is twofold: explaining the ramifications if the ordinance is repealed and countering opponents’ contention that male sexual predators will use the ordinance to enter women’s restrooms.

“Houston and Houstonians don’t believe in discrimination, and so, HERO simply says everybody should be free from discrimination and that’s why folks should support it,” Carlbom said.

The challenge for supporters is to fend off the public safety allegations without losing their own message, University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said. The business angle – that events such as the Super Bowl and Final Four could go elsewhere in the event of repeal – likely will factor into supporters’ argument, he said.

The onus, he said, largely falls on opponents of the ordinance to turn the tide as LGBT issues continue to pick up public support. As the ordinance was embroiled in litigation, a slew of states and then the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.

“In part, because it’s hard to get people to undo something, opponents have a harder job,” Rottinghaus said. “Once the inertia is developed in a certain direction, it’s hard to get people to do something different.”

Jared Woodfill, former Harris County GOP chairman and a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the ordinance, said opponents would target female voters and men concerned about the safety of their wives and daughters. The pitch to voters, Woodfill said, is simple: “No men in women’s restrooms.”

Yeah, that’s exactly how I thought the opposition would go. The good news, I suppose, is that I really don’t think the leaders of the opposition are capable of keeping their frothing homophobia under wraps, and I think that will hurt them. I agree with Campos that the more they let Steven Hotze talk, the better it will be for HERO supporters. But it’s increasingly clear to me that the bathroom argument has taken hold, and has been internalized by a lot of people. I don’t think facts are going to help counter that. To the extent that persuasion is part of the pro-HERO campaign, I think it has to be about making people feel that supporting HERO is the right thing – the Houston thing – to do. I’m hopeful, but there’s an awful lot that can go wrong, and a lot at stake. BOR has more.

And now we have a lawsuit over HERO repeal ballot language

Oh, for crying out loud.

RedEquality

Last month the Texas Supreme Court suspended the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, more commonly known as HERO, and ordered City Council to either repeal the non-discrimination measure or put it up for a public vote.

On Wednesday council voted 12-5 for the latter, and in November Houston voters will be asked this question at the polls:

“Shall the City of Houston repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, Ord. No. 2014-530 which prohibits discrimination in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment, and housing based on an individual’s sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information gender identity or pregnancy?”

That question, according to the coalition of pastors and conservative activists that have been fighting HERO tooth-and-nail since it went before council last spring (even though religious groups are exempt from having to follow the law), is deliberately confusing and not the same as a public vote on HERO. On Friday, Andy Taylor, one of the attorneys who first sued the city over HERO alongside Steve “Men Who Lose Their Testicles Can’t Read Maps” Hotze (who later dropped out of the suit), filed yet another legal challenge against the city in hopes of changing the wording of the ballot measure.

In a motion filed with the state supreme court Friday, Taylor points to the city charter language related to ballot referendums: “…such ordinance or resolution shall not take effect unless a majority of the qualified voters voting thereon at such election shall vote in favor thereof.”

That’s the legal basis for Taylor’s petition to change the ballot language – that voters should vote “yes” or “no” on HERO, not “yes” or “no” on whether to keep it.

[…]

Ultimately, it appears the anti-HERO coalition fears the ballot language could harm their chances of success at the polls. “This is a legal recipe for an electoral disaster,” Taylor writes. “Voters will be confused, because someone who is against the proposition cannot vote against, and vice-versa.”

It’s unclear why Taylor and his coalition still feel they haven’t won the HERO-ballot battle and keep heading to the courts. The public now has the opportunity to cast a vote on other people’s rights, which is what Taylor and other opponents have wanted all along. Is the current ballot language (do you or do you not think HERO should stand?) really so confusing as to spoil the anti-LGBT contingent’s chances at the polls?

Mayor Parker’s statement is here. I’m convinced that the only language that would be acceptable to Taylor and his band of idiots is “Do you or do you not want to protect your children from a bunch of filthy perverts?” But hey, maybe they’ll get the Supreme Court to save their sorry asses again.

In the meantime, while we wait for that foolishness to be adjudicated, there’s this:

Boosters of big sporting events in Houston are nervous about the fight over the equal rights ordinance.

Opponents of the ordinance have succeeded in putting the issue on the November ballot. Now, some HERO supporters are calling upon the NFL to move the 2017 Super Bowl out of Houston if the ordinance is repealed. The online petition was launched by a blogger and it has dozens of signatures.

“Well, I think if Houston is ever perceived as an intolerant, bigoted place, it will greatly diminish our opportunities to bring sporting events to town,” admitted Sports Authority Chairman J. Kent Friedman.

Houston’s Super Bowl Committee had no comment.

The NFL reportedly considered moving a Super Bowl out of Arizona over legislation that would’ve offered legal protections to businesses that discriminated against gays. That never happened, because the governor vetoed the bill.

HERO opponents say it’ll never happen here either.

“That’s simply a red herring. That’s simply what they tried to do in Indiana and Arkansas and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” said ordinance opponent Jared Woodfill. “It basically shows that they are going to do anything and everything they can to skew the issue.”

“I think it’s a real threat,” said KHOU 11 Political Analyst Bob Stein. “Now, how it plays with the voters is very interesting. It could conceivably become one in which voters have a backlash against it, see it as a — how can I say this? — a threat.”

Via PDiddie, the blogger in question. The petition is here, and it surely can’t hurt to sign it. How likely it is that the NFL might actually move a Super Bowl that would be 14 months out at the time of the vote if it goes badly I couldn’t say, but it would certainly make it a lot harder, if not downright impossible, for Houston to win bids on other big events, and I would predict with absolute certainty that some events that are currently on the calendar would be canceled, just as they were in Indiana after they passed that ill-advised “religious freedom” law. There’s a good reason why the Greater Houston Partnership supports HERO – this is the norm in the business world, and it’s a base condition for companies that want to recruit top talent. Anyone who thinks repealing HERO would not have negative repercussions is not living in the real world. You can like HERO or not, you can like the way Mayor Parker got it passed or not, and you can be like Dave Wilson and obsess all you want about the genitalia of every person who enters a women’s bathroom if you want, but the prevailing reaction to the loss of HERO will not be good for Houston. Texas Leftist has more.

Woodfill is still pursuing his anti-same-sex benefits lawsuit

From the inbox and the febrile mind of Jared Woodfill:

RedEquality

Last year Houston Judge Lisa Millard granted a temporary injunction and ordered Houston Mayor Annise Parker and the City of Houston to immediately stop recognizing same-sex ‘marriages’ and stop providing benefits to the same-sex couples married in other states. Judge Millard stated, “This court does not legislate from the bench” and ordered the injunction to stay in place until a trial date of December 2015. I filed the lawsuit on behalf of Larry Hicks and Pastor Jack Pidgeon. The City of Houston has appealed Judge Millard’s opinion. Mayor Parker is arguing that the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding same-sex marriage justifies her unilateral decision to use your tax dollars to fund same-sex benefits. I believe the City of Houston and Mayor Parker are wrong. The recent marriage decisions addressed a new right for same-sex marriage, but did not establish an entitlement for financial support at taxpayer expense. Consistent with the same dichotomy that resulted in the abortion decisions, which established an individual right to abortion but an equally strong right by the States to deny public funding for abortion. Accordingly, we have responded to Mayor Parker’s unlawful use of your tax dollars and filed a responsive brief. The brief can be accessed by clicking here. I am hopeful that the Houston Fourteenth Court of Appeals, like Judge Millard, will once again make it clear that Mayor Parker’s executive actions to force the funding of same-sex benefits on the people of Houston are illegal. It is time for Mayor Parker to stop wasting tax dollars on issues that have already been resolved by Texas voters and Texas state courts. I will keep you posted on the progress of this litigation.

Read Judge Millard’s order here.

To review the situation: In November of 2013, after SCOTUS knocked down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Mayor Parker issued an executive order declaring that spousal benefits for city employees extended to legally married (i.e., in other states) same-sex spouses. This was both in response to the deletion of DOMA and in recognition of the fact that the 2001 charter amendment limited benefits to “employees, their legal spouses and dependent children”. Pidgeon and Hicks, abetted by Woodfill, then filed a lawsuit challenging this, and got an initial injunction against it from Family Court Judge Lisa Millard. A second lawsuit was then filed by three City employees who would have benefited from Mayor Parker’s order, to force the action that she took. Both suits were then moved to federal court in December, where Judge Lee Rosenthal dropped the injunction against the city. The second plaintiffs, represented by Lambda Legal, moved to combine the two suits, which were eventually moved back to state court last August. Woodfill and pals filed another lawsuit in state court in November; I have no idea what happened to that one.

As far as I know, that was the last update until after the Obergfell decision, at which time the Lambda Legal lawsuit was formally dismissed for being moot. I would have assumed the same would have happened to the Pidgeon/Hicks lawsuit, but I have not seen anything to confirm or deny that. As for this current action, I have no idea what legal basis Woodfill thinks he has to draw a distinction between same-sex marriage and opposite-sex marriage – silly me, I thought the SCOTUS ruling was pretty clear on that point – but after what we’ve seen in the past few weeks, who knows what a Texas court might do. Any legal types out there who can explain any or all of this better than I can, by all means please do. I’ll keep my eyes open for any further developments.

Supreme Court rules HERO must be repealed or voted on

Ugh.

PetitionsInvalid

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday that Houston City Council must repeal the city’s equal rights ordinance or place it on the November ballot.

The ruling comes three months after a state district judge ruled that opponents of Houston’s contentious non-discrimination ordinance passed last year failed to gather enough valid signatures to force a repeal referendum.

“We agree with the Relators that the City Secretary certified their petition and thereby invoked the City Council’s ministerial duty to reconsider and repeal the ordinance or submit it to popular vote,” the Texas Supreme Court wrote in a per curiam opinion. “The legislative power reserved to the people of Houston is not being honored.”

The city’s equal right ordinance bans discrimination based not just on sexual orientation and gender identity but also, as federal laws do, sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, as well as family, marital or military status.

Houston City Council has 30 days to repeal the ordinance or place it on the November ballot.

[…]

A “disappointed” Parker said she thought the court had erred in its “eleventh hour ruling” and said her team was consulting with the city’s pro bono outside counsel on “any possible available legal actions.” She said the ordinance resembles measures passed by other major U.S. cities and many local companies.

“No matter the color of your skin, your age, gender, physical limitations, or sexual orientation, every Houstonian deserves the right to be treated equally,” Parker said. “To do otherwise, hurts Houston’s well-known image as a city that is tolerant, accepting, inclusive and embracing of its diversity. Our citizens fully support and understand this and I have never been afraid to take it to the voters. We will win!”

You can read the opinion here. To be clear, this was not an appeal of the trial court verdict that declared the number of petitions collected to be insufficient. It’s a ruling on a writ of mandamus filed last August to force the city to accept the City Secretary’s initial count, which only looked at registrations and didn’t consider whether petition pages were proper or whether any signatures had been forged. I personally think it’s perverse to ignore the findings of widespread forgery and general not following the rules, which to me just rewards bad actors, and if that’s what they were going to do they could have issued this ruling back in April and given the city and the HERO defenders more time to prepare for a campaign. As with the ReBuild Houston ruling, I’m having a hard time seeing this as anything but political in nature. It’s a screw job and there’s not much we can do about it.

As to what happens next, I don’t have any faith in the “possible available legal actions” the Mayor alluded to in her statement, so we’ll see what Council does on Wednesday. It’s theoretically possible that the decision could be made to repeal the ordinance and then try again next year, so as not to disrupt this year’s election and have to run a campaign on little time. That obviously requires electing a “good” Mayor, and it of course gives the haters another shot at collecting repeal petitions, this time with full knowledge of the boneheaded mistakes they made last year. I don’t know that I’d go that route, but it is an option.

Regardless of that decision, this will have an effect on the Mayor’s race, and thus on the rest of them. I’ve been asking about HERO in the At Large races where I’ve done interviews, but in the context of it being a settled issue. I’m going to have to put a note on most of them to indicate I did them before today’s ruling was made, as there’s no convenient fence-straddling position any more. Where one could have said something to the effect of “well, I didn’t support it then, but it’s the law now and I don’t see any reason to repeal it” before, now everyone needs to give a straight up keep-or-repeal answer. Five Mayoral candidates – Sylvester Turner, Steve Costello, Adrian Garcia, Chris Bell, and Marty McVey – are known HERO supporters. One – Ben Hall, of course – is not. One – Bill King – has been a fence-straddler. If the repeal referendum is on the ballot, how will you vote? If the decision is made to pass the question to the next Mayor and Council, what will you do? Everyone needs to ask that of all their candidates. I assure you, in the interviews I have left to do, I will be asking.

In the meantime, you should assume that this will be on the ballot, and you should do whatever you can to ensure it doesn’t get repealed. HOUEquality is your one stop shop for information and ways to help. Lane Lewis in his role as HCDP Chair has sent out emails vowing support for HERO. Find something you can do to help and do it. The Trib, Hair Balls, Think Progress, TPM, and Texas Leftist have more.

No expedited appeal for HERO opponents

From HOUEquality, on May 13:

Today the 14th Court of Appeals denied HERO opponents’ request to force a trial in less than 30 days. The trial will proceed, but at a regular pace. This is another setback for opponents, but the case will still be heard by the Court of Appeals.

PetitionsInvalid

HERO opponents filed their request for an expedited appeal on April 30, nearly two weeks after the city prevailed in district court. I don’t know about you, but I think if part of my argument was that my case would somehow become moot if the appeals process took too long, I’d file that appeal a bit more quickly. The city responded on May 7, arguing that the plaintffs’ request was “unnecessary, unreasonable, and unfair”, and as you can see in the very brief ruling, the appeals court agreed. I don’t know what the appeals schedule will be, but I do know that unless there’s a ruling in place by about mid-August ordering a repeal referendum, there ain’t gonna be one this year. One hopes there will never be one, but this year is increasingly unlikely.

Oh, and it might help the plaintiffs’ case if they actually paid the appellate filing fee. I mean, it would be fine by me if they didn’t, as that will lead to a dismissal of their case. But if they do want their case to go forward, in however timely a fashion, this is a detail they might want to tend to. Just FYI.

More on the HERO repeal petition jury verdict

KUHF has a good look at What It All Means.

PetitionsInvalid

“It’s tough to predict,” said Teddy Rave, an assistant professor at the University of Houston Law Center.

“It looks like the jury pretty much split the baby. They answered some questions in favor of the plaintiffs and some in favor of the city. And now it’ll be up to the judge to apply the answers that the jury gave to the signatures on the petition to try to figure out which ones are valid and how many of them are valid and whether that will get across the threshold.”

The jurors were asked to consider six different questions.

For example, in Question 1, they had to determine which of 98 different petition gatherers “signed and subscribed” their oath. Without a valid oath, all signatures that person gathered are invalid.

The jury said “no” for about two-thirds of them.

But [Andy] Taylor, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, argued that says nothing about what the judge will end up ruling on that question.

“As long as you substantially comply with the purpose of the law, then the vote counts,” Taylor said.

He said as long as someone signed or wrote their name anywhere on the page, their intent is clear.

[Geoffrey] Harrison, the city’s lawyer, disagreed.

“People who sign where they’re supposed to legibly identify their name but fail to sign to actually take the oath — that’s the fundamental problem,” Harrison said.

See here for the background. What you need to see is the copy of the jury charge embedded in the KUHF story link. It gives a good idea of just how shoddy the effort of the petition collectors was. For example:

– To the question “Which if any of the following Circulators signed and subscribed the Circulator’s oath in the Referendum Petition?”, where “subscribed” means “to sign one’s own name” at the bottom of the pages, the answer for 64 of the 98 circulators was No. Among them were former Council candidates Philip Bryant, Kathy Ballard-Blueford Daniels, and Kendall Baker; pastor Steve Riggle, and former Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill.

– The plaintiffs made a big deal out of the fact that the jury answered No to the question of whether any pages submitted by 13 different circulators contained fraud. But to the question of whether or not they contained forgeries, the answer for 12 of the 13 was Yes, and to the question of whether or not any of them contained “non-accidental defects”, the answer for 6 of 16 was Yes.

– Finally to the question of whether or not the circulators’ affidavit oaths were true and correct, the answer for 12 of the 13 was No. Interestingly, the one circulator for whom the answer was Yes was also the one circulator whose pages were found to contain no forgeries.

The big question is how many petition pages get knocked out as a result of all these errors, incompetencies, and forgeries. There was a meeting between Judge Schaffer and the attorneys on Thursday the 19th to discuss this very topic.

In the hearing, Judge Robert Schaffer sought input from the lawyers on what to base his final ruling on.

Andy Taylor represents the plaintiffs — pastors and conservatives who oppose the ordinance.

He said the judge will ultimately decide how many valid signatures there are left.

“There are multiple rulings that he’s going to have to make,” Taylor said. “Some of those rulings have subcategories and subparts. It’s very, very complicated.”

The jury found several instances on the petition where signature gatherers didn’t sign their oath correctly. They also found cases where the same person signed for others, and other defects. But it’s not always clear-cut when a signature is invalid.

Geoffrey Harrison, who represents the city, thinks otherwise.

“If the judge does use the jury’s verdict as a framework for the judge’s decision, this case is over for the plaintiffs,” he said. “They lose and it’s not close.”

We’ll see about that. Judge Schaffer is expected to make his ruling on Monday. The more that get tossed, the fewer pages for the city to re-count valid signatures (“valid” meaning registered voters in the city of Houston), and obviously the better the chance that there won’t be enough of them. This is, as they say, a big effing deal.

HERO repeal petition trial wraps up

There actually wasn’t all that much testimony in the HERO repeal petition trial. On Tuesday, former City Attorney David Feldman took his turn on the stand.

PetitionsInvalid

City Secretary Anna Russell originally found enough valid signatures but did not verify the way each page was certified. When Feldman examined the pages himself, he testified, problems were immediately apparent.

The incendiary language at the top of each petition page, attacking and misconstruing the ordinance, he said, took up so much room that the legally required oath, signature and notary lines were crammed together at the bottom of the page, Feldman said, leading many signature gatherers to err in verifying their pages.

“I believe today, as I did then, that the petition is not valid,” he said afterward.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Andy Taylor, called Feldman’s testimony a “non-event” that “added nothing” to the city’s case.

“He and his legal team for the mayor spent all of the time trying to disqualify innocent voters from being counted in the petition rather than … trying to qualify and save their status as innocent voters,” Taylor said.

That argument comprised a key portion of his cross-examination of Feldman, in which Taylor suggested no city official knew how many valid signatures were on the pages that were not rejected. Taylor repeated that, as of December, there were 19,470 names on valid pages, which he said meant the accurate tally would be over the threshold.

Feldman countered that officials had verified all signatures on valid pages and found the tally short.

“Yes,” Feldman said. “We did the analysis.”

See here for the prior update, on Mayor Parker’s testimony. I wish I had a better feel for how things have gone, but there’s not a whole lot of other coverage out there. Feldman was not the only witness to testify on Tuesday.

As part of its defense case, the City of Houston called Janet Masson to the witness stand. She’s a forensic document examiner — with a background in handwriting analysis — who studied each of the 5,100 pages of the petition. Masson testified that she found several irregularities. For example, she said many of the signatures appear to be duplicates.

Geoffrey Harrison is the attorney for the City of Houston. He explained the importance of Masson’s testimony in an interview outside of the courtroom.

“She is showing hundreds of pages by hundreds of pages and hundreds of signatures by hundreds of signatures that there is fraud, forgery and clearly non-accidental defects,” Harrison said.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Andy Taylor, argued during the trial that even though some signatures may be duplicates, they should be counted as valid at least once, and not thrown out entirely.

Much as it pains me to agree with Andy Taylor, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a duplicated signature to count once, if it is otherwise valid. It would be nice to know why there are so many apparent duplicates – it sure sounds to me like Taylor is admitting that there are a bunch of them – and their presence absolutely calls into question the integrity of the petitions that were submitted as a whole. Some level of sloppiness is to be expected in a petition process, but at some point you have a credibility problem.

And speaking of such things.

Attorneys defending the city of Houston’s contentious equal rights ordinance concluded their case Wednesday by alleging rampant fraud in the petition opponents filed in hopes of forcing a repeal referendum on the law, and targeting pointed questions at the lead plaintiff, attorney and conservative activist Jared Woodfill.

Among the 5,199 pages petitioners submitted to the city last summer was one containing the names of Woodfill, the former longtime head of the Harris County Republican Party, and his wife, Celeste Woodfill. Woodfill printed his name in the oath at the bottom of the page to affirm both signatures were correct and collected in his presence. Testimony focused on whether Woodfill may have penned the signature next to his wife’s name and whether Woodfill’s printed name at the bottom of the page constituted a signature for the purposes of swearing an oath.

[…]

In questioning Woodfill on Wednesday, city attorneys drew on a December deposition in which his answers left some doubt as to whether his wife’s signature was authentic. The mark looked “messier” than he expected, Woodfill recalled Wednesday. Pressed on the point by one of the city’s attorneys, Alex Kaplan, Woodfill said he filed paperwork correcting his deposition immediately after speaking with his wife, and said flatly, “I did not sign for my wife.”

“I corrected that and then I talked to her about it, all right? My oath is true,” he said. “I assure you she signed it. You’re insinuating she didn’t sign it.”

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Andy Taylor, responded by calling Celeste Woodfill to the stand. She acknowledged her petition signature and her signatures on other public documents the city attorneys displayed differed greatly, but she said, “There is no doubt in my mind, that is my signature,” and had a ready explanation.

“I was holding my 30-pound son in one hand and trying to sign with the other,” she said on cross examination. “Breakfast, getting the backpacks packed, it’s a totally different situation … than sitting at a table. Any mother would understand.”

I suppose if the petition page were a loose piece of paper, and you didn’t have a hand free to hold it down as you signed it, it could be messy. On the other hand, if the petition page were on a clipboard, as is usually the case for petitions, it would be stationary as you signed it, so your signature would look normal. I say this as someone who did a lot of things one-handed back when my kids were little.

Believe it or not, that was the end of testimony in the case. Both sides made their closing arguments yesterday.

Andy Taylor, attorney for the plaintiffs, painted the trial as pitting desire of the people to vote against an all-powerful City Hall. Gesturing to the city’s many pro bono lawyers, Taylor referenced the bible.

“Help us beat Goliath,” Taylor said. “Help us beat City Hall.”

Geoffrey Harrison, attorney for the city, was less theatrical in his closing. Instead, he walked jurors through some of the pages they will be asked to consider and determine if, for instance, a circulator both printed their name and signed the bottom of the page.

“The plaintiffs have tried throughout this case to skirt the law,” Harrison said. “We don’t get to pick and choose what rules we follow.”

If nothing else, this confirms my theory of the litigation, and why the plaintiffs were so adamant about putting this before a jury: The facts are not on their side. They hope to win by appealing to emotions. Maybe it’ll work, I don’t know. I certainly hope the jury was impressed by the evidence of fraud and forgery. We’ll have to wait till they’re ready to tell us.