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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 20, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 08
Jury finds for City in Houston rights ordinance trial
Section One
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Jury finds for City in Houston rights ordinance trial

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A Houston jury found on February 13 that anti-Gay activists petitioning to repeal the city's new equal rights ordinance had committed forgery and other errors.

District Judge Robert Schaffer will now review how many signatures are valid to see if there are enough to qualify the repeal for the ballot. According to the Houston Chronicle, the judge was not present in the courtroom when the jury returned its verdict after six days of deliberations.

At stake is a new law which protects Houston's LGBT community from discrimination. Lesbian Mayor Annise Parker was the leading advocate for the measure. Anti-Gay groups petitioned to repeal the ordinance, but City Attorney David Feldman ruled that many of the signatures they submitted were invalid. The anti-Gay forces then sued to reverse his decision.

Attorneys for both sides said they expect the judge to rule in their favor.

'Anyone who was hoping that the jury's verdict would give a clear indication that the Houston equal rights ordinance is valid and will withstand this attack should be thrilled and dancing in their kitchen because that's what the jury did here,' attorney Geoffrey Harrison said. 'The jury rejected out of hand the repeal petition from the plaintiffs.'

Harrison - working for the City of Houston - contends the anti-Gay group is more than 10,000 signatures short of qualifying for the ballot. The jury found that 12 of the 13 petitioners in question submitted pages containing forgery, Harrison noted, and some high-volume petitioners did not properly sign the pages they collected.

The law's conservative opponents, however, maintained they would prevail when the judge begins his review. Schaffer has the power to reject some of the jury's findings, they said.

Lawyer Andy Taylor said the jury found that none of the 13 circulators in question committed fraud - even though the jury did find forged signatures. And on the question of whether or not 98 different petitioners correctly 'signed and subscribed' the pages they submitted, Taylor said he was encouraged that the jury found that 33 of them had done so.

'The thing that is super significant here is that the jury found no fraud,' Taylor said. 'This mayor has been claiming for over six months that these hardworking citizens committed fraud and this jury found that they did not. So they can take that to the bank.'

Parker said in a statement Friday that she was 'very pleased' with jury's ruling and expected the judge would ultimately rule that critics' petition had failed. She also said she hoped the opponents would not take the fight to the appellate courts.

'I believe that the majority of Houston wants this divisive fight to be over so that we are able to provide equal rights protections for all of our residents,' Parker said. 'The city is confident it will prevail.'

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