Opponents of Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance sought to keep LGBT people off the jury that's hearing their lawsuit aimed at repealing the measure.
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.
Meanwhile, an attorney for the city said HERO opponents gathered only 5,000 valid signatures — or fewer than one-third of the total they needed — on a petition to repeal the law. Geoffrey Harrison, who is leading the city's defense against a lawsuit aimed at repealing the ordinance, told the Houston Chronicle a legal review determined that the number of valid signatures on the petition is far below what city officials initially determined.
Anti-LGBT groups claimed they gathered more than 30,000 signatures on the petition to repeal the ordinance, which the City Council passed in May. However, the city rejected the petition, saying it had only 16,500 valid signatures, fewer than the 17,269 needed to force the City Council to repeal the ordinance or place it on the ballot.
The city's rejection of the petition in August prompted a lawsuit from anti-LGBT groups, led by former Harris GOP Chair Jared Woodfill and pastors including Dave Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council. In court documents responding to the lawsuit, the city has alleged the groups committed fraud and forgery and used other dishonest tactics in gathering signatures.
The Chronicle reports that those allegations were front and center as a jury trial in the lawsuit got under way this week:
In his opening argument in court Tuesday, Alex Kaplan, an attorney for the city, said the petition is "full of problems." ...
Andy Taylor (photo), attorney for the plaintiffs, said any claims of fraud were 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."
According to attorneys for the city, the problem goes far beyond commas.
In one motion, they noted that many of the petition signatures were "purportedly from many different people, all of whom have the same handwriting." And in a deposition, a paid signature-gatherer for the anti-LGBT groups admitted that he committed fraud and perjury by attesting that signatures he turned in were all collected by him when, in fact, they were not. The city has introduced a report from a handwriting expert detailing a variety of problems with the signatures, some of which are "highly irregular."
But Taylor, the attorney for the anti-LGBT groups, downplayed those allegations in an interview this week with Fox 26:
“That kind of stuff is a tiny, tiny part of these signatures. So can the city come up with a couple hundred or couple thousand signatures that aren't valid? Sure they can,” says Taylor.
Although the trial is focused on the technical issue of how many signatures are valid, Taylor is also using it as a forum to attack the mertis of the ordinance, according to Fox 26:
"Why in the world would we create a law that confers special rights on men who just want to pretend they are women so they can go into female restrooms in Houston and take advantage of young girls?” asks Taylor.
Taylor told Fox 26 that the city rejected the petition not because of invalid signatures, but because Mayor Annise Parker doesn't want the ordinance on the ballot:
“She just told her lawyers kill this thing. Smother this thing in the crib because she doesn't want voters to have a chance to pass on the lunacy of this bathroom ordinance. Well her day off reckoning is about to come.,” Taylor says. "We are very confident the jury, after it hears all the evidence, is going to say one thing, mayor you got it wrong. Let the people vote,” says Taylor.
Harrison, the attorney for the city, told KPRC that the people have already voted:
"The people elected Mayor Annise Parker and elected the members of City Council who voted for this ordinance."
The trial reportedly could last up to two months.