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July 7th, 2015:

Federal lawsuit filed in Hood County

That sound you hear is the rubber meeting the road.

The motion for a temporary injunction and temporary restraining order was filed this morning in Fort Worth federal court on behalf of Soifer’s clients, Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton, who’ve been together for 27 years. The couple has been trying to get a marriage license ever since the Supreme Court made it legal in all 50 states on June 26, only to be told, repeatedly, the clerk’s office isn’t issuing licenses.

Initially Katie Lang, the county clerk, said her office wasn’t issuing licenses because of her religious beliefs; she then clarified her statement to indicate she wouldn’t issue licences, but her staffers would. But on Thursday, the couple says they were told the the same thing The Dallas Morning News was when we called to inquire about the issuing of licenses: It would take several weeks because the clerk’s office didn’t yet have the forms from the state.

According to the lawsuit, on Thursday the couple went to the clerk’s office and “produced a copy of the revised application for marriage license, promulgated by the state and available to county clerks, and asked if they could use it to apply.” But a woman named Virginia in the clerk’s office “told them she could not accept that form. Then Clerk Lang asked everyone to leave the office, stating that no media was allowed. Jim replied that Joe and Jim were not media, but instead taxpayers of Hood County, there to get a marriage license, but the Clerk said they needed to leave as well, which was humiliating. Clerk Lang also apparently called the Sheriff’s Department, because by the time Joe and Jim left her office, approximately half a dozen deputy sheriffs had arrived to stand guard outside and immediately inside the Clerk’s office.”

The suit says the couple “found the entire process to be humiliating and degrading, and have no reason to believe that they would receive a marriage license without having to file a lawsuit to get it.”

See here for the background, and click the link above to see a copy of the lawsuit. This was bound to happen as long as County Clerk Lang refused to obey the law and do her job. The good news is that in spite of all that, Cato and Stapleton got their marriage license.

A Granbury gay couple on Monday obtained a marriage license from the Hood County Clerk’s office after filing a lawsuit against the clerk in federal court.

But attorneys representing Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton, who have been together for 27 years, said the couple will move forward with their lawsuit until the county clerk’s office agrees to issue marriage licenses to all couples.

“Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton are delighted that they finally have been issued a marriage license and can get married in their home county,” the gay couple’s attorneys, Jan Soifer and Austin Kaplan, said in a statement. “It’s a shame that they needed to hire lawyers and file a lawsuit to make that happen.”

The Hood County Clerk’s office would not say whether it is issuing same-sex marriage licenses and referred questions regarding the licenses to County Clerk Katie Lang’s personal attorneys.

Lang’s lawyers at the Liberty Institute, which specializes in religious freedom litigation, said the clerk’s office was unable to issue the license on Thursday “because of software issues” and “lack of guidance” from the county attorney on using existing forms.

“The Clerk’s office was unable to issue a license at close of business on Thursday, even though everyone left with the understanding that one would be immediately available on the next business day,” said Jeremy Dys, senior counsel at the Liberty Institute. “The office was closed Friday. This morning, as of about 8:00 a.m., there is a marriage license waiting for the couple that has, for some reason, sued Hood County.”

Yeah, that’s a mystery to me too, pal. Congrats to Cato and Stapleton, and may the courts deliver a swift and decisive smackdown of Lang, so as to serve as a bucketful of cold water in the face of other derelict public officials and those that would enable them. More coverage from CBS Local and Hood County News, and be sure to see Bud Kennedy as well. Thanks to Somervell County Salon in the comments for the tip.

And the battle moves to Irion County

“Where the heck is Irion County?” I hear you cry. Just the home of the next County Clerk that needs to be schooled on the Constitution, and not her dime store “understanding” of it.

The county clerk in tiny Irion County is standing firm on her decision to not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, outlining her opposition in a “declaration of obedience to law and defense of natural marriage.

Molly Criner, clerk in the West Texas county, wrote her response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent gay-marriage ruling on Saturday – July 4. In it, she quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., referenced Thomas Jefferson and cited the court’s Dred Scott decision.

“I … shall resist unlawful federal or state court encroachments upon the prerogative of the people of Texas to protect natural marriage, and shall only issue marriage licenses consistent with Texas law, so help me God,” she wrote in her conclusion.

The “declaration” was released on Monday by the Liberty Counsel, an Orlando-based nonprofit firm that focuses on religious issues. The group – which has ties to Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell – is providing pro bono counsel to Criner.

“Like Molly, each of us should vow not to be intimidated but, instead, to stand united for our God-given liberties and the rule of law,” Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel’s founder, said in a news release.

[…]

It’s unclear how that situation might play out in Irion County, population 1,573.

I’ll get to that in a minute. I doubt there’s much to be learned from her screed, but it’s reprinted on Glen Maxey’s Facebook wall if you don’t want to get cooties from clicking that Liberty U link. You may note that Glen writes they are looking for some plaintiffs in that post, so you can probably guess how this will likely play out. Hood County, despite all of its County Clerk’s bluster, folded like a cheap suit once the lawsuit was filed. The main complication I see here is that there may literally be no one in Irion County to apply for a marriage license and get rejected; if a couple has to be imported to do this, I don’t know if that changes anything, legally speaking. If it does, then this standoff could last for awhile, but in the end someone will explain to Ms. Criner, using small words, that the Constitution doesn’t mean what she thinks it means. Some lessons just have to be learned the hard way. WOAI has more.

In related news from the ranks of the dangerously ignorant, Texas’ gay-hatingest legislator, Rep. Cecil Bell, did some more stupid things to ensure that his name will go down in the history books for all the wrong reasons. You can read the story for yourself – I’m certain this will be a campaign issue in March, and I fully expect that a barrage of hateful bills will be filed in 2017, but for now it’s a bunch of hot air. Remember what’s being said now and make sure you do everything you can to mitigate against it in 2016.

TOP calls for changes in construction incentives

From Prime Property:

Members of the Texas Organizing Project stood with signs across from a 40-story building under construction at Preston and Milam just off the park on downtown’s north side.

The group was hoping to draw attention to the Downtown Living Initiative, a program that offers $15,000 per unit in tax rebates to developers building new housing units in the city center.

Many of the developers receiving the incentive are building projects with high-end amenities and charging rents well above $2,000 per month.

Only wealthy people can afford to live in these units, “furthering economic segregation of our city,” said Tiffany Hogue, a spokeswoman for TOP, an advocacy group that promotes social and economic equality for low-income and working class Texans.

[…]

The city’s program, which could result in up to $75 million in subsidies, is meant to lessen the hurdles to developing downtown, chiefly high land costs and the complexity of construction.

The group hopes Houston’s next mayor hold developers to higher standards.

“Our mayor should hold private multi-million dollar developers accountable to real standards if they want our tax dollars, standards like creating affordable housing, generating good, sustainable jobs for Houston families, and investing in neighborhoods that need it most,” TOP leader Bishop David Pittman said in a statement.

See here for some background. I’m not averse to the arguments for encouraging downtown residential development. Downtown is a better place than it was 20 years ago, and its improvement has been a key in the renaissance of Midtown and EaDo and other areas nearby. All that said, this is a lot of money being used to subsidize high-end development, which is exactly the sort of thing that ought to be able to stand on its own. If the city were reaping a full economic benefit from this that would be one thing, but in a revenue cap world, the marginal benefit of another high-end high-rise are limited. We need to pay attention to making Houston affordable again. As I’ve said many times over the past few months, we need to know how the Mayoral candidates feel about this.

What Dallas County can teach us about jail overcrowding

Why can’t Harris County be more like Dallas County, at least in this regard?

go_to_jail

Dallas County’s jail population has hit an all-time low. That means more spacious jail tanks and fewer bologna sandwiches.

If the trend continues, it could add up to big savings for taxpayers.

The jail, the seventh-largest in the country, is the biggest expense item in the Dallas County budget, at $107.7 million annually.

For the past two years, the average jail population each month has hovered around 6,100. Last month, it was 5,618.

[…]

County officials said there’s no single explanation for the current population decline. Some possible factors:

1. Fewer book-ins: So far this year, there have been fewer new arrivals than in 2013 and 2014.

2. More diversion programs: For most inmates, the jail serves as a holding facility. From there, they return to society, go to prison or get sent to another institution, such as a drug treatment center or hospital.

A variety of programs can shorten jail stays. Low-risk offenders who can’t post bail can pay a small fee and get out before their trial dates. Some can serve their sentences under house arrest instead. Others go to diversion courts, such as drug court or mental health court, which focus on their particular needs.

A federally funded project helps identify inmates who are mentally ill so they can be moved out of custody and given help. In the past six months, the number of inmates identified as mentally ill has gone up, Stretcher said.

3. New software: Criminal case files have gone digital, thanks to new software launched in the spring.

Now, attorneys, investigators and victim advocates can look at the same file at the same time. They don’t have to pass a paper file from person to person.

Cases can be presented to grand juries faster, which shortens jail stays, said Ellyce Lindberg, an assistant district attorney. The software allows the county to track where cases get stuck.

4. More bus rides to prison: Inmates bound for state prison are shipped out on buses run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Those buses can haul off 150 to 200 people per week, resulting in significant drops in the jail population.

For years, the county has worked to speed up the paperwork needed to move these prisoners. And the reduction in book-ins means there’s been more time to catch up on backlogs.

5. Foul weather: Jail populations typically fluctuate seasonally, said Noonan of the Bureau of Justice Statistics. In general in Dallas County, bookings increase in the summer and drop off slightly in the fall and winter.

That pattern may have been thrown off by the exceptionally heavy rains in the past several weeks.

Emphasis mine. This isn’t rocket science. We can choose to keep fewer people in jail if we want to, and we can do so at very little risk to public safety. In every other context when it comes to spending taxpayer money, there are plenty of people there to intone somberly about “making tough decisions” and “living within our means” and so forth. For some reason, they’re not nearly as much a part of this kind of budget discussion. You tell me why that is the case. Link via Grits.