The City of Houston and former mayor Annise Parker faced a major setback when the Harris County 1st Court of Appeals denied their procedural appeal to dismiss the case against them alleging that deceptive ballot language was used to pass a proposition lengthening the terms of the mayor, controller, and council members.
Although the court did not rule on the facts of the case, the decision allows Philip Paul Bryant and his lawyer Eric Dick, who filed the lawsuit, to move the case forward to the Texas Supreme Court for a final decision.
In November 2015, a proposal placed on the ballot by Houston City Council to change term limits of city officials from three two-year terms to two-four year terms was approved overwhelmingly by voters. The proposition stirred up significant controversy, as opponents believe the city intentionally worded the question to mislead voters into lengthening their terms.
The lawsuit against the city states:
“As admitted by Annise D. Parker, the ballot language suggested voters were limiting the amount of time for municipal elected officials to serve in office when in fact the voters were allowing them to serve more time.”
The lawsuit originally was tried by Hon. Randy Clapp, a Wharton County judge appointed to hear the case. Ruling that the ballot language used by Parker was “inartful,” he admitted that the case needed to ultimately be decided by the Texas Supreme Court.
Clapp denied the City of Houston’s motion to have the case against them dismissed, and gave Bryant permission to proceed with the appeal.. Both Bryant and the city appealed, with the city arguing Clapp didn’t have jurisdiction over the case.
The decision by the 1st Court of Appeals upheld Clapp’s jurisdiction over the case and denied the city’s attempt to vacate it. The court concluded, “We affirm the order of the trial court denying the City’s plea to the jurisdiction.” The case will likely end up going to the Texas Supreme Court.
If the lawsuit is upheld, it would not be the first time the City of Houston has been found guilty of deceptive ballot language to pass their agenda. The Texas Supreme Court ruled in In re Williams that Annise Parker’s administration had used inappropriate ballot language twice in the year 2015 alone.