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Monday, February 16, 2015

Jury decision in pastors' fight with lesbian mayor


Houston Mayor Annise Parker

Houston Mayor Annise Parker

A jury has found no fraud in an effort by a coalition of pastors in Houston to force the city to allow residents to vote on a transgender ordinance that was adopted by council members on the urging of Mayor Annise Parker, an outspoken lesbian who once said the fight was all about her.

The jury’s decision now must be applied by a judge to the petition signatures that had been thrown out by the city. The judge will issue a final ruling.

The fight broke into the headlines several months ago when WND broke the story that the city had issued subpoenas to five of the pastors who are involved for copies of their sermons. The pastors later called for an investigation of city hall’s actions in the dispute.

Parker issued a statement that she was confident the city’s arguments would prevail, but a lawyer for the plaintiffs, including members of the Texas Pastor Council, issued a statement that explained some of the intricacies of the jury’s determinations, which are now being applied by the judge, Robert Schaffer.

The pastor council said the issues were technical, so its attorney Andy Taylor, offered some explanation of several issues involving the petitions turned in by volunteers with tens of thousands of signatures demanding a vote on the transgender ordinance.

“As a result of the jury’s verdict, no fraud was found to exist. As explained below in much more detail, the case law permits a much more flexible and forgiving standard when there is no fraud finding, which will prove to be important when asking the judge to forgive the failure to include a signature line in the form of circulator affidavit that was drafted for the coalition’s use. This is also a helpful finding in the public domain, as the mayor has been tossing the ‘fraud’ word around quite liberally in the court of public opinion. I repeat, no finding of fraud,” the attorney reported.

He noted the jury did find there were some “forgeries,” where apparently a wife signed her husband’s name, or a husband signed his wife’s name. But those issues only affect a tiny fraction of the signature pages turned in.

“The only potential supposed issue that our side has is the fact that the affidavit form that was drafted lacks a signature line underneath the body of the oath itself. But, as I have briefed extensively to the judge, this ‘error’ in form is the direct result of the manner in which the city posted the required affidavit on its city website. Instead of posting an affidavit that contained a blank line for a circulator to print their name and a second line for a circulator to sign their name, the on-line form has a short 5/8s of an inch horizontal line with no accompanying description of what that short line is supposed to denote,” the attorney explained.

“All of the testimony at the trial was to the effect that you cannot glean from this required form that the short line is a signature line. And I don’t think the judge thinks any reasonable person would know what this line is for, either.”

Taylor explained that the city’s argument was that a petition circulator who already was required to print their name and sign in another location also was required the sign in yet another location – on a tiny line that had no indication of its purpose.

“The case law says that, particularly where no fraud exists, courts are lenient when a person has ‘substantially complied’ with the purpose of the rule that was not literally complied with. In our case, every circulator put their own name in their own handwriting on the form affidavit, plus they appeared before a notary who identified that circulator, swore them in, had them sign the notary’s book, etc. In addition, the oath itself said that the circulator ‘subscribed’ their signature,” the explanation said.

See Taylor’s comments:

Parker, meanwhile, posted an online statement that she was pleased with the jury’s verdict.

“The jury’s verdict confirms that the petitions did not meet the legal requirements. The plaintiffs are expected to appeal any outcome that is not in their favor. That would be unfortunate for the city,” she said.

F.N. Williams, senior pastor at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, said the city’s attorneys “went to extraordinary lengths to discredit, demean, denigrate and disqualify as many petitions and signatures as possible.”

And Pastor Steve Riggle, a leader of the coalition, said the pastors all along knew the fight over the ordinance might be long and hard.

“We are … greatly confident that justice will be served and the people will have our day at the ballot on this very important matter,” he said.

At issue in the “equal rights” ordinance granting transgenders additional rights adopted by the city council at the mayor’s urging last year.

When the council adopted it, over the objection of a multitude of city groups, a coalition of pastors collected more than 50,000 signatures to reverse it. City Secretary Anna Russell, who has served Houston for more than four decades, explained in a deposition she stopped counting signatures at about 19,000 because the minimum number of valid signatures had been surpassed. She explained she understood the city charter “provides that the city secretary determine the number of qualified voters who sign the petition.”

In her testimony, she was 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.

But the city attorney, David Feldman, then stepped in and disqualified most of the signatures that had been collected, and the city has been fighting efforts to overturn the ordinance ever since.

The judge earlier rejected the city’s demand for a trial before a judge rather than a jury.

The city claimed the pastors have no right to a jury trial.

In a move that prompted a barrage of criticism nationwide, Parker had subpoenaed the sermons of five pastors, demanding copies of any communications related to her and “gay” issues. She promptly was criticized by commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, America’s top-rated radio host, who described the mayor’s actions as “vile.”

“I think what that mayor in Houston has done may be one of the most vile, filthy, blatant violations of the Constitution that I have seen,” Limbaugh said on his national broadcast. “And I, for the life of me, cannot figure out why law authorities are not pursuing this. I cannot understand it.”

WND also reported a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights wrote to Parker, urging her to back down from her demand for copies of pastors “speeches.”

“I write to express my concern regarding subpoenas requesting extensive information from pastors who are involved in the Equal Rights Ordinance Referendum,” wrote Commissioner Peter Kirsanow. “These discovery requests threaten to have a chilling effect on religious and political speech that is protected by the First Amendment.”

Jury decision in pastors' fight with lesbian mayor
Bob Unruh
Mon, 16 Feb 2015 16:39:34 GMT


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