Anti-HERO Alarmists Argue to Keep Trial in Front of Jury

Forget about dirty old men throwing on dresses and trying to seduce women and children in restrooms throughout Houston. The coalition of conservatives trying to overturn the Equal Rights Ordinance say a Harris County District Court "should not be seduced" into letting a judge -- and not a jury -- decide the case's fate.

Attorneys for the city last month filed a motion requesting a bench trial, but the plaintiffs say they have a "constitutional right to a trial by jury." That motion and others are scheduled to be heard today, but we'll have to wait until the trial, scheduled for January 19, for the truly good stuff, which includes allegations of forged signatures.

So far, most of the City's challenges to the petitions' validity has centered around technical -- and pretty boring -- matters like whether a page included a blank space for a circulators' signature. What's really intriguing, though, is the City's more recent contention that many names were forged, and that Woodfill "is no stranger" to fraudulent petitions.

In motions filed last November, attorneys for the City cited a suit where Woodfill -- then the chairman of the Harris County Republican Party -- accepted "facially valid" election petitions that "turned out to involve 'forgery, fraud, or other non-accidental defects discoverable only by independent investigation."

No one has argued that Woodfill knew the signatures in that election were invalid at the time he accepted them, but attorneys for the City point out that the court didn't buy Woodfill's argument that "the truthfulness of a circulator's affidavit is strictly a criminal matter."

The November motions include a sampling of the HERO signatures that City attorneys say were "purportedly from many different people, all of whom have the same handwriting." OH SNAP.

These allegations were enough for for plaintiff Steve "Birth Control Pills Make Women Less Attractive to Men" Hotze, to drop out of the suit -- something the City's attorneys say is evidence that "misconduct and non-accidental defects are so pervasive" throughout the petitions. Listen, it's a bad sign when your co-plaintiff is Steve Hotze. But it's a really bad sign when Hotze drops out from fear that he may not have a legally sound argument.

We'll have to wait to see how the judge rules on the motion for a bench trial. In the meantime, we're hearing from folks like Steve Riggle, with the "No UNequal Rights Coalition," who has called upon City Council members to publicly state whether they support the City's motion.

"As a citizen of Houston for over thirty years, and a community leader, I feel our city has suffered enough national embarrassment over this issue," Riggle wrote in an email to Council members.

Riggle was of course referring to former City Attorney Dave Feldman's infamously tone-deaf discovery motion for pastors' instructions regarding the anti-HERO campaign, a standard legal request worded so artlessly that it's no surprise that Feldman is the former city attorney.

But this lawsuit isn't an embarrassment to the nation because of that. It's an embarrassment because of folks like Riggle, who argued that HERO would open women's restrooms "to men who feel or claim to feel that they are women. As a result, restrooms, showers, and locker rooms throughout Houston will be open to sexual predators who can use this proposed ordinance as a cover of protection to violate women and young girls."

What does it say about a group of men who, in the face of an anti-discrimination measure, automatically think about dudes in dresses violating little girls?

Embarrassing, indeed.

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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow