Despite having a staff of attorneys, the city hired Pierce to represent them in this case, saying he was experienced in such matters. When asked if that influenced his belief that the city was not properly defending his group?s ordinance, Tom Brown said ?I really don't have an opinion, because I don't know why they wanted to do it.?
When asked how much the city was compensating Pierce, a city attorney told ABC-7 we?d have to file a written request asking for a copy of that contract. ABC-7 is attempting to secure the document.
All three attorneys have several deadlines from now until April to further plead their case through briefings and refute the others? arguments. Judge Montalvo told them he expects to have a final ruling in mid-April.
If the judge rules for the city, there are other efforts in the works to stop the ordinance and others like it. A grassroots group who formed in opposition to the initiative has begun a petition drive to convince City Council to add a non-discrimination clause to the city charter. El Paso for Equality has to gather more than 15-hundred signatures to get city council to consider their proposal. Before their clause is heard by city council, where it can be rejected, the city clerk has to verify all the signatures are from registered voters. If council rejects their idea, they have to gather another 15-hundred signatures to take the issue to voters in May.
Their clause would forbid the city from denying health coverage, employment, and other provisions on the basis of disability, sexual orientation, age, marital status, and more. After Thursday?s ruling, a representative for El Paso for Equality, Lyda Ness, said on the phone that they felt vindicated by the federal judge?s decision.
Also already in motion: a similar attempt by the city. The City Council on Tuesday introduced a motion that would allow for a special election in May to amend the city charter. City Representatives are scheduled to discuss and vote on the issue next Tuesday. City Representative Susie Byrd has suggested a similar non-discrimination clause as El Paso for Equality?s. If City Council rejects the idea next week, then there?s still a chance voters will decide on a charter amendment in May, if El Paso for Equality can gather enough signatures in time to put it on the ballot.
This kind of special election would cost the city money. Though residents are scheduled to elect several new city representatives in May, the election is not city-wide. A charter amendment would require a city-wide election and would cost tens of thousands of dollars more. A recent estimate by the Mayor at a city council meeting was about 60-thousand dollars.
EPFTFV?s efforts to put their ordinance up for a vote in November cost the city about 130-thousand dollars.
Weeks ago, City Council also voted to take the time to draft yet another ballot measure that could come to the voters in May. This one would not be a charter amendment, but an ordinance that would cover the same issue: should the city provide health insurance for domestic partners? This time, though, the city attorneys would draft the wording, and its intent would be clear, city officials said.
Maria Garcia covers city policy and politics for ABC-7. She was the only reporter in the federal court hearing on Thursday.