The city goes on offense as it defends the equal rights ordinance at the repeal petition trial.
In his opening argument in court Tuesday, Alex Kaplan, an attorney for the city, said the petition is “full of problems.”
“It is precisely these kinds of cases where there are high public passions where the rules must be followed,” Kaplan said.
Andy Taylor, attorney for the plaintiffs, said any claims of fraud are untrue and the city’s argument is “laughable.” He said “well-intentioned voters from time to time didn’t follow all the rules” but there was no fraud.
“They’re talking about ticky-tacky deficiencies like we’re missing a comma or our signatures are hard to read,” Taylor said. “Give me a break. Did our forefathers die in battle so that commas could prevent their children from voting?”
University of Houston law professor Richard Alderman said it is common in such cases for signatures to be challenged and thrown out, and the case ultimately will be a numbers game of how many valid signatures remain. Still, Alderman said, substantiated fraud claims could influence jurors’ perception of the case.
“If the city were to allege five or six problems and the jury believed one or two, then when they’re on the fence they’re more likely to believe one of the others,” Alderman said.
City attorneys focused heavily on claims of fraud in a lengthy motion, filed this month, asking state District Judge Robert Schaffer to rule on important pieces of the case before it even began. Schaffer largely declined to do so, allowing jury selection to begin Monday and opening arguments to be given Tuesday.
Still, the filing cited depositions of people who gathered signatures in arguing the effort was tainted by “fraud, perjury, and other dishonest acts.”
According to the city, some of those involved in the petition drive admitted signature gatherers had an incentive not to follow the city charter because they were paid by the signature, regardless of validity. Others involved said residents signed for people other than themselves.
See here for the background. The depositions, detailed in the story, were first publicized by HouEquality, and I encourage you to click those two links and see the evidence for yourself. I tend to agree with Professor Alderman that the more credible allegations that the petition gatherers were egregiously sloppy, if not outright fraudulent, that the city can make, especially given the video evidence that they knew exactly what the rules were, the less sympathy a jury is going to give them. I’m very interested in seeing how they explain some of this stuff. And speaking of the jury:
On Monday, lawyers for HERO opponents said they wanted to be allowed to ask — directly — whether any potential jurors were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. They argued that this was important information because they wanted to be sure jurors aren’t biased. In other words, they wanted to force potential jurors who might be closeted either to out themselves as LGBT or perjure themselves. Moreover, the folks who argue that LGBT people don’t face discrimination wanted to discriminate by keeping LGBT people off the jury.
The judge said no.
It’s increasingly hard to believe that that these guys can win – or that they think they can win – unless they have the playing field tilted in their favor. KUHF, Towleroad, Project Q, the Christian Examiner, and Media Matters have more.