Case study

Houston Court Orders City Secretary to Count Signatures on Pay-Parity Petition for Houston Fire Fighters

March 20, 2018 Case Study

District Judge Dan Hinde issued an order compelling the City Secretary of Houston to count and verify signatures on a petition seeking an amendment to the Houston city charter that would ensure parity between fire fighter and police officer compensation.  Beck Redden was proud to represent the petitioners, leaders of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, in this effort.

“We are very pleased that Judge Hinde has confirmed that the City Secretary has an obligation to fulfill her official duties and certify this petition to the City Council, so that it can be presented to the voters at the November 2018 election,” said Beck Redden partner Russell Post, who coordinated the legal team.  “This litigation focuses on the right of the citizens of Houston to express their will, and the court’s ruling confirms that city officials cannot frustrate the will of the people by refusing to act on a citizen petition.  Now that the court has ruled, we expect that the City Secretary and the City Council will do their duties and bring this important charter amendment before the voters at the next election.”

The Fire Fighters submitted the petition in July 2017 after gathering more than 52,000 signatures from Houston voters in just over one week.  After the City Secretary failed to count and verify the signatures in time for the proposed amendment to be placed on the November 2017 ballot, despite her legal duty to do so in a reasonably prompt manner, the Fire Fighters filed suit and sought a court order to compel the City Secretary to fulfill her duties.  A team composed of Post, Beck Redden partner David Gunn and associate Kyle Lawrence worked closely with the Fire Fighters’ regular counsel, Troy Blakeney, to develop and execute the legal strategy.

Following a one-day trial, the district court rejected the City Secretary’s justifications for failing to act and concluded that the City Secretary must “fulfill her ministerial duty within a reasonable time.”  Emphasizing that the City Secretary “has the knowledge, ability, and personnel to count and verify the number of valid signatures on a ballot petition and report to City Council within 30 days of receipt,” Judge Hinde concluded that her “failure to take any steps toward reviewing” the Fire Fighters’ petition “in the more than 238 days that have passed since she received the petition in July 2017 was not reasonable, nor was it in compliance with her ministerial duty.”

Accordingly, the court granted the Fire Fighters’ request and directed the City Secretary to “fulfill her ministerial duty to review” the petition and verify the number of valid signatures by April 27, 2018.  Compliance with this court order will allow the City Council to place the proposed charter amendment on the ballot for the November 2018 election.

Russell S. Post 713.951.6292
David M. Gunn 713.951.6290