Lawyers for lesbian mayor tell Supreme Court city petition never ‘validated’
Attorneys for Houston’s lesbian mayor, Annise Parker, who is defending a city ordinance granting special rights to transgenders, are insisting to the Texas Supreme Court that opponents have no claim in court, because their petition to reconsider the law was never “validated.”
The argument, however, contradicts the sworn testimony of the city secretary, who has the authority to validate the signatures and determined the petition drive met the minimum requirement.
The city’s brief to the state Supreme Court was filed by attorney Lynne Liberato in a case brought by a coalition of local organizations that had collected about 55,000 signatures, three times more than the required amount, to force the city either to repeal the ordinance or let voters decide on it.
After the city adopted the ordinance in May, the signatures were gathered, and the city secretary affirmed the minimum number had been obtained. But the city attorney then stepped in and invalidated most of the signatures.
The opponents filed suit, and a trial was set for January. In the discovery process, the mayor issued subpoenas for any statements, emails or “sermons” on the issue from five local pastors who were members of a coalition opposing the ordinance but not part of the lawsuit. In the uproar that followed, the city changed the word “sermons” to “speeches,” but attorneys for the ministers said it really made no difference.
The coalition asked the state Supreme Court to step in and order the city to follow its charter, which specifies that ordinances opposed by a certain number of residents shall be halted.
In arguing now that the state Supreme Court should keep out of the case, the city said that “because the city secretary did not validate the referendum petition, the second step of the referendum processes – the city council’s ‘immediate’ reconsideration of the ordinance or popular vote – was never triggered.”
The city’s lawyers argued the city charter “does not require respondents to act, immediately or otherwise, on an unsuccessful referendum petition.”
However, the city secretary, Anna Russell, who has served Houston for more than four decades, was asked by plaintiffs’ attorney Andy Taylor in a deposition about validation of the signatures.
Russell had explained it was her understanding “that the [city] charter provides that the city secretary determine the number of qualified voters who sign the petition.”
Taylor then asked: “And based on that understanding, you did that; and the result of your work was that 17,846 signatures had been validated. And that was more than the minimum number necessary, correct?”
“That’s correct,” she replied
Taylor told WND in an interview that the city’s filing was a “head fake” to try to keep the state Supreme Court from intervening and ordering the city to follow its charter and act on the petition.
He said the city essentially brought up three points – that the Supreme Court doesn’t have jurisdiction because a trial is scheduled in January, that there are disagreements a trial judge needs to decide first and the case needs to run its course through the system because of arguments of time, signatures and other issues.
But, he said, the charter requires immediate action on such petitions, not a leisurely trip through the court system.
He said the violations are ongoing and need to be addressed.
And he said there are no real issues to decide, since the city secretary, as required in the city charter, ruled there were enough signatures on the petition.
In fact, she noted that she only looked through about one-third of the signatures submitted, because the minimum already had been reached, and there was no point in spending more time.
It wasn’t until after she had prepared her report, she said in the deposition, that the city attorney came to her and told her that he had invalidated most of the signatures and that she ultimately revised her report to add that statement.
Taylor told WND that Russell also, in a memo about the dispute, had used the word “certify” regarding the petition signatures.
“She did her job,” he said.