Houston...We Do Have A Problem Here
Well, here we are in another fine mess down here in The Republic of Texas. Perhaps you have seen or heard about the Mayor of Houston, the City Council of Houston, the in house attorney for the City of Houston, a few ordained, Christian ministers, and some 50,000 of the City of Houston’s citizens having a dispute amongst themselves. It was all over the news and even made Fox News all last week.
It seems the City Council, at the strong urging of the Mayor, passed an ordinance allowing individuals to chose whichever bathroom facility they chose, wherever in the City they might be, irrespective of how that might offend, frighten, impose, disgust (and a few other choice descriptive verbs, adverbs or adjectives) other citizens of the city.
Within a fairly short period of time, a petition was presented to the City, seeking a vote to be on a ballot in Houston on whether the ordinance should be rejected. That is a specific option (or remedy if you chose) provided under City of Houston ordinances and Texas law, for removing an ordinance. The petition, in order to be allowed, had to have a minimum of 17,000 citizen signatures. This particular petition had over 50,000 citizen signatures. Up to then, it was shaping up as some good ‘ole South Texas fun.
Now bad things began to come about. The City of Houston, no doubt upon the urging of the Mayor and especially no doubt, based upon the advice of the in house counsel for the City, chose to reject the petition, citing unspecified, and rather dubious claims of discrepancies in the signatures. Really? Out of 50,000 signatures gathered in accordance with the procedures for such petitions, 17,000 good signatures could not be found? Ask yourselves, does that “smell right”? No. I am sure if it were a petition for something the Mayor and City Council wanted, another result would have been achieved. Now, fellow Texans, ask yourself what you would or can do if over 50,000 of you signed a petition seeking a referendum on a City ordinance, which Texas law clearly states you can do, and the Mayor of the city “flips you off”? You heard me correctly, “FLIPS YOU OFF”. Doesn’t just ignore you, like politicians do, but tells you directly you have no rights, you cannot exercise those rights, shut up and sit down. The answer is pretty clear, you file a law suit…or you start a revolution. After all, 50,000 Texas citizens are a lot of people. Hell, Santa Ana only had 20,000 and none of them were Texas citizens! They got their collective butts kicked by Sam Houston who had a lot fewer people helping him.
Well, cooler heads prevailed and representatives of those 50,000 Texans filed a law suit against the City of Houston, the Mayor and the City Council seeking to have restored to them what the Mayor had taken away from them; their right to petition government for grievances, the right to insist upon a referendum on the City Ordinance so that all Houstonians could vote on it. The law suit is pretty straightforward, seeking to compel the City Council and the Mayor to set up a special referendum vote regarding the ordinance that is the subject of the petition. In effect saying, “Please make the politicians stop trampling on the rights of citizens and reinfranchise those 50,000 citizens who exercised their “God given rights” as outlined in various Federal, State, and local laws and documents and at least one document preceding the existence of the US government” (The Declaration of Independence).
So now, really bad things began to happen. The City of Houston, acting through a law firm and at the direction of an “in house” lawyer in the City Legal Department, decided to issue subpoenas to a group of minsters of local Houston churches, none of whom were parties to the law suit, demanding they produce copies of their sermons, especially those that referred to the Mayor, the ordinance, or those who supported the ordinance being passed.
Now folks, let me very briefly explain something about subpoenas in Texas. They are a discovery device that, under the power of a court, are an order that, if refused, can result in an order of the court to comply. Subpoenas are backed up by the power of the court to hold someone refusing to comply in “contempt of the court”. That can lead to a jail sentence and other punitive sanctions. They are not to be issued or dealt with “lightly”, meaning they are serious and their use must be appropriate and only for appropriate purposes. There are many, many ways for a party to a law suit to get information, documents, or data from a non-party to the law suit without using a subpoena. Let Billy Bob tell you now something you will hear again, shortly: There are 1,001 ways to get the information sought by the subpoenas in this case WITHOUT RESORTING TO A SUBPOENA”.
Subpoenas, if abused or miss-used, can become a device that abuses, intimidates, frightens, or angers ordinary citizens. Therefore, courts and especially judges, are very, very careful to oversee the use of subpoenas. So careful, that not just anyone can cause a subpoena to be issued. It is restricted to attorneys who are members of the Texas Bar or admitted on a special order to practice before the court. They are charged, as “Officers of the Court” to use the subpoena power correctly, and appropriately. Judges rely on attorneys to handle that very important, and powerful process. Failure to exercise this power is a very serious and inappropriate offense. This offence is called “Abuse of Process” and is a separate right of action under Texas law against someone who commits the offense.
Apparently, the local and national media got wind of the subpoenas and contacted the in house counsel for the City, a member of the City of Houston “Legal Department”, who was responsible for having the subpoenas issued. He decided to talk with these reporters, knowing they were reporters. He is purported by such reporters to have said he had “nothing against” any of the pastors but was just trying to “defend against a law suit”. When asked if the Mayor knew of the subpoenas being issued, he indicated “not until you guys (the reporters) put them all over the media”, or words closely to that effect. The Mayor did not know that the subpoenas had been issued?! Well, the Mayor is a “client” to this in house attorney. Attorneys are supposed to represent their client and ensure they are informed of major issues and decisions in law suits in which the client is a named party. Further, the Mayor is entitled to confidentiality as to not only communications with the attorney but also to such things as what the Mayor did and did not know, when and similar types of information. Did the Mayor authorize the attorney to talk with national media? Did the attorney really not tell the Mayor about the subpoenas? All this is confusing to an old attorney such as myself but it would seem the attorney acted without direction of the client or the client, directly or indirectly, authorized the attorney to take the action. And, by the way, did the client authorize the attorney to talk with the national media and disclose the confidential and privileged information about what the Mayor knew or didn’t know? All interesting questions that a client should seek the answers to from the attorney.
Fast forward a bit. All Hell begins breaking out about the subpoena of Heavenly inspired words, documents, and information! The in house attorney for the City of Houston begins to feel uncomfortable about all that has gone before, and, according to media representatives, tells them that he didn’t really prepare or issue the subpoenas, he had outside attorneys, working in a law firm, draft the subpoenas, advise him to authorize the filing of the subpoenas and it was really the outside counsel’s fault for coming up with the idea and actually filing the subpoenas. Then the in house attorney announces that the subpoenas will be amended to drop the word “sermon” but the subpoenas would stand otherwise as to the ministers. Finally…… on Halloween, October 31st, the national media, even those who are “chummy” with the Mayor and City Council, report that the Mayor has withdrawn the subpoenas, saying “religious freedom” issues should not be involved in this case. How about that! Victory, right!? Wrong!
The Mayor and the City Council will not agree to accept the petition signed by 50,000 Houstonians seeking a referendum on the ordinance. The law suit will continue on, presumably being defended by the in house attorney and his outside counsel “fellow travelers” unabated.
An open letter to the City of Houston, The City of Houston City Council and the Mayor of Houston:
A very wise Houston attorney told me recently that government must govern and conduct itself responsibly and appropriately, if it wishes to continue to govern! That is your duty. You must recognize and protect and acknowledge the rights of people with whom you do not agree. You are abusing fundamental rights of 50,000 of your citizens. It makes no sense at all for politicians such as you are to ignore 50,000 citizens. You should accept the petition and have the election. Let Freedom and Democracy ring in Houston again.
You need to seriously review how you use and authorize your attorneys, both in house and outside. The biggest issue Judge Bean sees here is that you either lost control of your counsel or you used them to conduct your will, which was to use the power of a court subpoena to attempt to intimidate citizens, to beat them into submission, to frighten them. This is unacceptable. Either get rid of all of your attorneys or get that situation under control. Either you are a victim of substandard legal service, or you have improperly used such service, in which case, the lawyers involved should have advised against the activity.
If you really think you need information from non-parties remember, there are 1,001 ways to get that information BEFORE using a subpoena. Call them, write them, seek a discovery conference at which such information is discussed. Ask the court to oversee the need for information and listen to all parties on such issues. Those are just a few. One more, perhaps you should attend those churches and listen for yourself…..but that is your choice as a citizen of Texas.
End of open letter.
Texans and all citizens of the US:
The problem Houston has here is Lawyers and the Legal Profession.
Lawyers have mismanaged the profession. I remind you of the incredible power they have to file law suits against people, issue subpoenas demanding information and threatening jail and penalties if their targets do not acquiesce to their demands.
When lawyers use their power to intimidate or bully, they abuse it. We live in a culture of intimidation and acquiescence in this country. Lawyers have created that culture and the legal profession must destroy that culture.
The story above is re-enacted and recreated every day all across this country in abusive litigation and litigation tactics from local, state and federal district courts to bankruptcy courts and at the behest of governments such as the City of Houston, and including governmental agencies such as the IRS and EPA. All of this abusive, overreaching, improper activity is directed, managed, urged, impowered or allowed by lawyers.
President Carter said the following while addressing the American Bar Association, “..... America is over lawyered and under represented.”
If you are free and able to enjoy fully exercising your rights as set forth in the US Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence, (to name a few fundamental documents that protect us), then my friends, it is most likely in spite of lawyers and not because of them.
There are many good, decent attorneys all across this country. They need to help the citizens of this country remake our dysfunctional legal culture. Before it is too late.
HOUSTON…. WE DO HAVE A PROBLEM and now you know what it is. Everyone of us has this problem.
Judge Billy Bob Bean has left the courtroom.