HERO win in court puts ordinance into effect

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Mayor Annise Parker celebrated a court victory on Friday that threw out a petition seeking to put the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance to a public vote, bringing at least a brief end to the fight over the LGBT-inclusive discrimination measure.

State District Judge Robert Schaffer ruled on Friday that the petition from anti-gay activists fell 565 signatures shy of the 17,249 needed, validating the decision by Parker and other city officials to throw out the petition last year.

“It is, therefore, ordered, adjudged and decreed that after applying all of the findings of the Jury and the rulings of the Court, the Court enters this Final Judgment in favor of the Defendants, as the final tally of valid signatures on the Referendum Petition is 16,684 which does not exceed the minimum number of required signatures, Schaffer said in his ruling. “The court therefore finds as a matter of fact and as a matter of law that the Referendum Petition is not valid or enforceable in all respects.”

Parker hoped that Schaffer's ruling would end the legal battle over the ordinance.

“I would hope that the plaintiffs would not appeal, they lost during a jury trial and today they also lost with the judge’s ruling,” Parker said in a prepared statement. “Now all Houstonians have access to the same protections.”

A city spokesperson told the Houston Chronicle that Parker's self-imposed hold on enacting HERO during the lawsuit has been lifted, which the mayor celebrated with a tweet.

 

But City Attorney Donna Edmundson said the city will be ready if HERO opponents – ordered by Schaffer to pay court costs – appeal the ruling.

“This is a great victory in the courts, and a great day for civil rights in Houston, Texas,” Edmundson said in a prepared statement. “The jury found for the City, and now the judge has found in favor of the City too. I am gratified that the judge signed a final judgment rejecting the plaintiffs’ claims and confirming that their pro-discrimination referendum petition failed. We will be prepared if the plaintiffs decide to appeal.”

An appeal is likely. From the Houston Chronicle:

Andy Taylor, attorney for the plaintiffs, said he remains confident they will ultimately take the law to voters. He was particularly upset with rulings that some illegible signatures were disqualified.

“We intend to appeal and are confident the higher courts will agree that good handwriting is not a valid reason to deny citizens of their constitutional rights to vote,” Taylor said.

On Thursday, a day before Schaffer's ruling, Parker defended the ordinance during her final State of the City Address. In March, she promised a HERO win before leaving office this year.

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