Mayor Annise Parker took the stand Monday in the trial over the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance and subsequently took heat from opposition attorneys that tried to characterize her testimony as evasive – heat she rejected and turned right back on “fraud and forgery” by HERO opponents.
Andy Taylor, the lead attorney for HERO opponents, asked Parker mostly technical questions about why the city disqualified certain signatures and pages from a petition seeking to repeal the ordinance, according to a report from the Houston Chronicle.
Taylor later called Parker's testimony “embarassing” and suggested she had been evasive on the witness stand, the Chronicle reports:
The lead attorney for the city, meanwhile, said the mayor “ate (Taylor's) lunch,” despite, Geoffrey Harrison said, Taylor's line of questioning deliberately obscuring the facts of the case.
Parker, for her part, labeled her testimony “tedious” and remarked “those poor jurors” to an aide during a morning break.
“They've made a lot of public allegations about what I did or did not do, but they really didn't ask me about what my job was and what I actually did do, which was surprising,” Parker said. “They spent a lot of time asking me to second-guess the work of the legal department. As I had to reiterate, I wasn't down in the weeds, that wasn't my role.”
Also Monday, Parker said during a press conference (video below) that HERO opponents used dishonest tactics in gathering signatures, but added that wasn't the main problem with the petition.
“I want to be clear: There was fraud, there was forgery. There were lots and lots of mistakes,” Parker said. “But the vast majority of things that were disqualified, pages that were disqualified, was because they didn't follow the form and the process laid out in the charter, and that's not optional.”
Attorneys for the city now say only 3,905 signatures on the petition were valid, a number that continues to decline. Last week, they put the figure at 5,000.
HERO opponents claimed they gathered more than 30,000 signatures, but the city rejected the petition in August, 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.
City Secretary Anna Russell initially concluded the petition had enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, but was overruled by then-City Attorney Dave Feldman. Monday's testimony included video of a deposition from Russell, in which she recounted a meeting with Feldman and Parker on the same day officials announced the petition had failed.
Feldman is scheduled to take the stand Tuesday. The trial began last week and could last a month or more.
The city's rejection of the petition prompted the 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.
If HERO opponents prevail, a referendum on the ordinance likely would appear on the November ballot. If the city prevails, the ordinance approved by the City Council last May would finally go into effect.
The ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.