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No HERO ruling quite yet

There was a hearing, but still no ruling quite yet.


Opponents of the city’s legally embattled equal rights ordinance say they collected about 200 more valid petition signatures than they need to trigger a repeal referendum, a figure a district court judge will consider this week as he issues the final ruling in what has a been a lengthy and complicated case.

At a hearing Monday morning, Judge Robert Schaffer said he intends to rule by the end of the week.


Though the two sides still adamantly disagree on whether the petition was valid, their respective signature tallies are closer together than ever before. The city’s motion for judgment, submitted Friday, leaves the plaintiffs with 16,619 signatures, short of the 17,269 signatures they need.

Andy Taylor, attorney for the plaintiffs, said he intends to submit a count Monday afternoon that credits opponents with about 17,500 valid signatures. He is challenging some of Schaffer’s rulings as to whether certain signatures were legible, among other issues.

Schaffer will now review both motions, reconsidering legibility and challenges to whether or not circulators who signed the petition also signed as voters, as required by City Charter. The plaintiffs also said there were examples of the city eliminating signatures belonging to voters who lived in city limits at the time they signed the petition but have possibly since moved out of Houston.

The city’s attorneys have also argued that plaintiffs are incorrectly matching circulator signatures with those of voters on the petition.

“I feel I was conscientious in what I was doing and how I did my tally,” Schaffer said. “But I’m not perfect and I don’t have a problem or an issue with going over a few more to see if I might have missed one.”

See here for the background. Man, I wish I knew what Judge Schaffer’s tally is, but we’ll have to wait till he’s ready to tell us. HouEquality fills in some details.

When last we checked there were over 5,000 signatures that the City had deemed illegible, and on Friday of last week we were told that opponents were lacking sufficient signatures by about 660. At today’s hearing the attorney for the opposition, Andy Taylor, was attempting to make the argument that some individuals who had been declared invalid because they did not reside within the City of Houston, had simply moved since the time they signed the petition.

Judge Schaffer reminded Mr. Taylor that he had absolutely no evidence to support that claim and when pressed on it Taylor admitted that he was making an assumption to that end.

We have continued to see opponents of HERO moving the goal posts when it comes to this trial. After demanding a trial by jury, which they got, they are now pretending as if the jury’s verdict has no bearing on the final tally. To be clear, the jury uncovered widespread forgeries in the submitted petitions, among other problems. It is easy to see why the Plaintiffs want to ignore the jury’s findings.

The numbers as we know them today are as follows:

The City of Houston is saying they have been able to confirm 16,619 signatures, 650 fewer than required to trigger a referendum vote.

The HERO opponents are not offering a firm number on their count. They are stating that they have validated at least 17,500 (231 over the requirement) and as many as 25,000 signatures – again, they would not offer an actual count.

I’m trying really hard to temper my expectations. That said, the fact that Andy Taylor did not have an exact number as the city did as well as his desperate-sounding attempt to argue that several hundred people might have moved since signing the petition makes me think the plaintiffs have lost and they know it. They’re just making as much noise as they can to make the city look like bullies. One can certainly argue that petitioners deserve a fair amount of latitude, and that in general courts should err on the side of people asking for access to the ballot box. I have expressed such beliefs myself, and I think there should be a fairly lenient standard for counting signatures. On the other hand, one can quite reasonably argue that the plaintiffs have been given a lot of latitude, yet even with that they’re still trying to conjure up new ways for signatures that have been rejected to be accepted instead. The requirements for petition pages to be deemed valid are not burdensome, but these guys failed to meet them despite having the resources to pay circulators and a high-priced attorney like Andy Taylor. Furthermore, while I do believe that in general access to the ballot should be fairly easy to accomplish, we are talking here about an effort to single out a group of people and restrict their rights. The plaintiffs deserve zero sympathy for that. I hope so hard that they get the verdict they have earned. Towleroad has more.

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