Anti-gay activists appeal to undo HERO victory

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Opponents of the city's LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance appealed on Thursday, asking an appellate court to set aside a recent ruling that allowed HERO to go into effect. 

Opponents of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance want to overturn an April 17 ruling from State District Judge Robert Schaffer. The judge said their petition to force a public vote on the ordinance fell 565 signatures shy of the 17,249 needed. That validated the decision by Mayor Annise Parker and other city officials to throw out the petition last year.

The group No UNequal Rights Coalition, led by anti-gay activist Dave Welch, said Thursday that Schaffer “caved” when he ruled against the petition effort. 

“After ten months, thousands of man hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs for the coalition, Judge Robert Schaffer caved in to political pressure by the LGBT political force who endorsed him and ruled that we were a few hundred signatures short.  His subjective determination that a group of circulators’ signatures were not legible – a standard that does not exist in Texas election law and violates the federal Voting Rights Act – invalidated over 5,000 signatures, nearly 10 times the number needed to erase even his declared shortfall.  We are confident that his decision will be overturned on that basis alone at the state Court of Appeals.”

The appeal on Thursday is actually one of three filed by Andy Taylor, the attorney for anti-HERO activists – two in local appellate courts and an ongoing one before the Texas Supreme Court. Taylor says opponents face a time crunch.

Via the Houston Chronicle:

The plaintiffs are facing a time crunch; they need a favorable ruling by mid-summer in order to meet the August deadline to qualify for the November ballot.

“We are doing everything we can to send this to voters,” Taylor said. “That's why we're filing multiple appeals, taking a three-prong attack.”

The city swatted back at the appeals effort.

Geoffrey Harrison, lead attorney for the city, had a less charitable interpretation of the approach.

“Having lost the election, lost the jury verdict and lost the judge's ruling, plaintiffs' misguided appeal sounds like a continuation of their three-ring circus of discrimination, intolerance and hate,” Harrison said.

The full statement from No UNequal Rights Coalition:

“We knew on July 3, 2014 that the massive coalition of pastors, churches, community leaders and citizens who had worked tirelessly over 30 days to gather over 54,000 signatures had submitted more than enough valid signatures to Houston City Secretary Anna Russell.  On August 4, 2014, it was evident that Mayor Anise Parker had conspired with her City Attorney David Feldman to deprive the voters of the right to decide at the ballot whether to protect our women from having biological males in their restrooms, showers and locker rooms. She broke the law and declared the petitions invalid.”

“We could not allow that kind of tyranny and lawlessness to occur in Houston so we filed a legal challenge against the Mayor and City of Houston.  During the succeeding months of depositions, hearings, briefs and trial, coalition attorney Andy Taylor firmly established that under established Texas law and precedent there were indeed not only an adequate number but a surplus of valid signatures submitted.”

“After ten months, thousands of man hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs for the coalition, Judge Robert Schaffer caved in to political pressure by the LGBT political force who endorsed him and ruled that we were a few hundred signatures short.  His subjective determination that a group of circulators’ signatures were not legible – a standard that does not exist in Texas election law and violates the federal Voting Rights Act – invalidated over 5,000 signatures, nearly 10 times the number needed to erase even his declared shortfall.  We are confident that his decision will be overturned on that basis alone at the state Court of Appeals.”

“The resolve of our pastors and leaders has not wavered and we intend to right a voting rights wrong. We will take this to the Texas Supreme Court if needed to assure that the rule of law is restored in Houston, voters have our day at the ballot and to protect basic, God-given rights of the citizens in the fourth largest city in America!”

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