Houston, you have a problem.
Houston city attorneys have subpoenaed everything but the air surrounding several ministers in the Houston area over an effort of those ministers to overturn Houston’s equal rights ordinance. The Houston Chronicle reports that city attorneys served subpoenas to opponents of Houston’s equal rights ordinance (HERO) asking for sermons, and other communications which reference HERO, the mayor, and a host of other related topics. A full list is contained in this subpoena of Houston minister Steve Riggle. I also list them below.
Sarah Bailey has posted a solid article on the controversy at Religion News Service. A group of Christians sued the city over disagreement about the validity of signatures on a petition to put HERO on the ballot. The organizers gathered far more signatures than required but the city attorney cited problems with the signatures. The pastors subpoenaed were not a part of the lawsuit but were active in opposing the measure. The city is calling the subpoenas a part of the discovery process to determine if the signatures were gathered properly.
The subpoena delivered to Steve Riggle is extraordinary. Riggle is supposed to deliver all documents and communications relating to a long list of topics to the city attorneys. The definition of documents includes emails, and texts and almost everything imaginable:
3. “Document” and “documents,” mean all documents and tangible things, in the broadest sense allowed by Rule 192.3(b) and comment 2 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, and include, but are not limited to, any writings, drawings, graphs, charts, photographs, phonograph records, tape recordings, notes, diaries, calendars, checkbooks, books, papers, accounts, electronic or videotape recordings, and any computer-generated, computer-stored, or electronically-stored matter that constitute or contain matters relevant to the subject matter of this lawsuit. The terms include, but are not limited to, emails, instant messages, text messages, or other responsive data or information that exists in electronic or magnetic form, and such responsive data should be produced pursuant to Rule 196.4 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.
4. “Communications” means every direct or indirect disclosure, receipt, transfer, or exchange of information, inquiry or opinion, however made, whether oral, visual, in writing or otherwise, including without limitation any conversation or discussion by means of letter, note, package, invoice, statement, notice, memorandum, inter-office correspondence, telephone, telegraph, email, telex, telecopies, text message, instant message, cable communicating data processors, or some other electronic or other medium.
The topics’ list is long and cumbersome:
II. REQUESTED DOCUMENTS
YOU ARE REQUIRED TO PRODUCE THE FOLLOWING RECORDS:
1. All documents or communications to, from, CCing, BCCing, or forwarded to you, or otherwise in your possession, relating or referring to any of the following in connection in any way with HERO, the Petition:
b. Annise Parker or the Mayor’s office,
c. Anna Russell or the City Secretary’s office,
d. David Feldman or the City Attorney’s office,
e. HERO or any drafts of HERO,
f. the Petition, or any drafts of the Petition, including any discussions relating to the language included at the top of the Petition,
g. the legal requirements for petitions under Texas, Houston municipal, or any other law,
h. Petition signers,
1. Petition Circulators,
J. affidavits filled out by Petition Circulators, including the notarization of the affidavits,
k. the payment of Petition Circulators,
1. funding of the Petition or petition drives,
m. the topics of equal rights, civil rights, homosexuality, or gender identity,
n. language relating to restroom access,
o. language related to restroom access being or having been removed from a version of HERO, including any communications related to the removal of that language,
p. any discussion about whether or how HERO does or does not impact restroom access.
2. All communications to or from Plaintiffs.
3. All communications with the City regarding HERO or the Petition.
4. All communications with members of your congregation regarding HERO or the Petition.
5. All communications with Joe La Rue or anyone else at the “Alliance Defending Freedom” regarding HERO or the Petition.
6. All drafts of the Petition.
7. All lists of Petition Circulators.
8. All communications to or from Petition Circulators.
9. Any documents relating to the payment of Petition Circulators, including but not
a. budgets related to the payment of Petition Circulators,
b. check stubs or check registers reflecting payments to Petition Circulators,
c. copies of checks made out to Petition Circulators,
d. tax forms relating to the payment of Petition circulators,
e. documents explaining calculation of payment to Petition Circulators,
f. documents referencing incentives given to Petition Circulators for obtaining certain numbers of signatures or completing a certain number of pages.
10. Any documents relating to funding and funding sources of the Petition and Petition-related activities.
11. All training materials prepared for Petition Circulators or anyone else involved in the collection of any signatures for the Petition.
12. All speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.
13. All documents, studies, information, communications, or other data relied on in connection with the Petition to check, confirm, or ensure the truthfulness and accuracy of the statements made in the Petition, including but not limited to the statements in the Petition (or in
any training materials prepared for Petition Circulators or anyone else involved in the collection of any signatures for the Petition) that “Biological males ARE IN FACT allowed to enter women’s restrooms in Houston under Mayor Annise Parker’s “Equal Rights Ordinance”, thereby
threatening the physical and emotional safety of our women and children!” and that “Her ERO creates UNequal Rights for a tiny group of people by taking away rights of safety and privacy for the vast majority of our women and children!”) (emphasis in original).
14. All documents, studies, information, communications, or other data that you believe support or demonstrate the truthfulness and accuracy of the statements made in the Petition, including but not limited to the statements in the Petition (or in any training materials prepared for Petition Circulators or anyone else involved in the collection of any signatures for the Petition) that “Biological males ARE IN FACT allowed to enter women’s restrooms in Houston under Mayor Annise Parker’s “Equal Rights Ordinance”, thereby threatening the physical and emotional safety of our women and children!” and that “Her ERO creates UNequal Rights for a tiny group of people by taking away rights of safety and privacy for the vast majority of our women and children!”) (emphasis in original).
15. All communications with Pastor Dave Welch or anyone else at or associated with the Houston Area Pastor Council referring or relating to HERO, restroom access in connection with HERO, the Petition, or this litigation.
16. All documents or communications reflecting or relating to the validity of signatures on the Petition or the validity of any Petition Pages, including but not limited to correspondence, notes, spreadsheets, or other documents regarding:
a. the validity of signatures,
b. the registered-voter status of any signatories,
c. the number of valid signatures,
d. the validity of Petition pages,
e. the validity of Circulator Oaths.
17. Your updated resume or curriculum vitae.
This is of course a fishing expedition by the city attorneys, hoping to unearth something that will help them in their case. However, it is overly invasive and appears designed to intimidate this person for opposing the ordinance. It is no secret among attorneys that subpoenas can be used to intimidate opponents. Apparently Riggle opposes the ordinance and has circulated petitions to gain signatures to put the measure on the ballot for possible recall. Engaging in the political process should not subject a person to undue hardship and in this case, the threat of contempt and the invasive nature of the request is unwarranted. I hope the court quashes the subpoena.
I should add that my view of the subpoena is not a commentary about the merits of the HERO. I have not studied that as yet and so I take no position on it at this time. I might favor such a measure (and I certainly favor equal rights and equal access in general terms) but oppose the tactics of the city attorneys.