Judge or jury ruling on HERO should come soon

From the other big lawsuit action on Friday.


A district judge offered little insight Friday as to whether he will grant a jury trial to conservative critics who have sued the city over its controversial equal rights ordinance.

During a brief but lively hearing in the 152nd District Court in Houston, Judge Robert Schaffer said he will likely issue that decision Monday or Tuesday. Barring any delays, the trial is set to start Jan. 20.

Equal rights ordinance opponents are pushing to take the case before a jury instead of allowing Schaffer, as originally planned, to issue a decision from the bench. Attorneys for the city are strongly opposed to that format, saying it violates state election law to send the case to a jury.


Schaffer offered no definitive commentary on the jury trial issue, but it was clear that his decision will likely depend on whether or not he determines that the case qualifies as an “election contest” under state law. An “election contest” can only be decided by a judge, not a jury.

Andy Taylor, attorney for the plaintiffs, argued that an election contest requires an election on the issue to have already happened or be imminently scheduled to take place, neither of which has occurred.

“It is an impossibility for me to file an ‘election contest,’ ” Taylor said.

City attorneys, however, countered that state Supreme Court decisions as well as a recent Court of Appeals ruling define an “election contest” more broadly and include the lead-up to an election. In charging that the city incorrectly invalidated their petition, equal rights ordinance opponents are invoking the state election code, city attorneys argued Friday.

See here for the background. I don’t know how to evaluate these claims, as they’re pretty technical. To some extent, it shouldn’t really matter if it’s a bench trial or a jury trial. The facts are the facts and either the city followed the law in rejecting the petitions or they didn’t. I presume the HERO haters think they have a better shot playing on emotions, and they may be right. If the facts are against them, though, I think that can only take them so far.

And then there’s this, which I added as a late update to my Friday post:

Attorneys for the city last month filed a motion requesting a bench trial, but the plaintiffs say they have a “constitutional right to a trial by jury.” That motion and others are scheduled to be heard today, but we’ll have to wait until the trial, scheduled for January 19, for the truly good stuff, which includes allegations of forged signatures.

So far, most of the City’s challenges to the petitions’ validity has centered around technical — and pretty boring — matters like whether a page included a blank space for a circulators’ signature. What’s really intriguing, though, is the City’s more recent contention that many names were forged, and that Woodfill “is no stranger” to fraudulent petitions.

In motions filed last November, attorneys for the City cited a suit where Woodfill — then the chairman of the Harris County Republican Party — accepted “facially valid” election petitions that “turned out to involve ‘forgery, fraud, or other non-accidental defects discoverable only by independent investigation.”

No one has argued that Woodfill knew the signatures in that election were invalid at the time he accepted them, but attorneys for the City point out that the court didn’t buy Woodfill’s argument that “the truthfulness of a circulator’s affidavit is strictly a criminal matter.”


These allegations were enough for for plaintiff Steve “Birth Control Pills Make Women Less Attractive to Men” Hotze, to drop out of the suit — something the City’s attorneys say is evidence that “misconduct and non-accidental defects are so pervasive” throughout the petitions. Listen, it’s a bad sign when your co-plaintiff is Steve Hotze. But it’s a really bad sign when Hotze drops out from fear that he may not have a legally sound argument.

If it turns out that the haters submitted phony signatures, then having a jury trial surely won’t help them. Either way, the trial is expected to last four to six weeks (!) because there’s so much evidence to read through. If the haters get their way, I sure won’t envy anyone who gets picked for that jury.

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One Response to Judge or jury ruling on HERO should come soon

  1. Mainstream says:

    It turns out that Dr. Hotze’s own signature on the petition was faulty: the notary he signed in front of failed to sign the notary’s name as required, but instead just stamped the document with his notary stamp. So Dr. Hotze’s departure is probably not due to some ideological misgivings about the lawsuit, or concerns that he could be tagged for court costs or attorneys fees from an unsuccessful suit. Basically, someone who did not properly sign the petitions himself is not the best person, or have much standing to bring the lawsuit.

    Unless I am mistaken, Jared Woodfill has argued in the filings before the Supreme Court that there is no need for a trial at all, that the state Supreme Court should just issue a mandate. This seems inconsistent with the whining about not having a jury trial at the district court level.

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