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Ex-City Attorney Feldman, Forensic Expert Testify In Houston Equal Rights Ordinance Trial

On Tuesday, an expert for the city explained some of the reasons why Houston officials rejected the petition seeking to overturn the new law.


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Testimony continued Tuesday in the civil trial seeking to overturn Houston’s equal rights ordinance.

As part of its defense case, the City of Houston called Janet Masson to the witness stand. She’s a forensic document examiner — with a background in handwriting analysis — who studied each of the 5,100 pages of the petition. Masson testified that she found several irregularities. For example, she said many of the signatures appear to be duplicates.

Geoffrey Harrison is the attorney for the City of Houston. He explained the importance of Masson’s testimony in an interview outside of the courtroom.

David_Feldman.jpgHouston’s former City Attorney David Feldman (L) testifies in the equal rights ordinance trial.

“She is showing hundreds of pages by hundreds of pages and hundreds of signatures by hundreds of signatures that there is fraud, forgery and clearly non-accidental defects,” Harrison said.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Andy Taylor, argued during the trial that even though some signatures may be duplicates, they should be counted as valid at least once, and not thrown out entirely.

The new law, which has yet to be enforced, prohibits discrimination based on federally recognized groups such as race and age, but also extends those rights to sexual orientation and gender identity. A group of pastors led a petition drive to have the controvserial ordinance overturned. The request was denied by city officials, who said  it did not have enough valid signatures. Supporters of the petition drive then filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s decision.

Earlier on Tuesday, Houston’s former City Attorney David Feldman took the stand. As city attorney, he oversaw the legal department as they reviewed the petition. Harrison said in an interview that Feldman’s testimony was key to the defense’s case as he was able to explain the process used to evaluate which signatures were valid and which should be rejected.

Duyring the trial, Taylor argued that Feldman’s office was inconsistent in the way it evaluated the signatures on the petition. The lawyer said that while the city ruled out some pages as being invalid, it accepted others with the same issues in question.

Testimony is scheduled to continue on Wednesday.

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