News Roundup: See You in Court!

Pressley demands recount, while Zimmerman and Sec. 8 cases progress

Laura Pressley
Laura Pressley (Photo by Jana Birchum)

In this week's News Roundup, Laura Pressley hopes that a recount will discover 1,300 missing votes, the city avoids a second Buehler trial, the Austin Apartment Association's suit against the city may move to federal court, and more.

Tomorrow at City Hall, the new 10-1 Council will be sworn in, and draw lots to see who will serve two-year and who will serve four-year terms (Steve Adler will serve four years as mayor). But before that happens, District 4 runner-up Laura Pressley would like a recount. Pressley filed simply on the grounds that Travis County used an electronic voting system, and she has requested a manual recount of the “ballot images” stored in the Hart Voting System along with a confirmation of each individual voter ID and signature. Her petition claims evidence of “inconsistencies” in the vote-by-mail system and in the apparent total of voters registered/voting in certain precincts. Pressley’s campaign seems to believe that those inconsistencies could be sufficient to reverse a 30-point margin in the final tally.

It will cost Pressley $13,600 as a deposit for the recount (based on state law and the 135 county polling places plus one for early voting where D4 voters may have voted; the deposit is presumably refundable should the recount overturn the results). Pressley had initially estimated a $1,900 deposit; she has since informed the City Clerk that she will file an amended petition and the additional deposit today, Jan. 5. (Pressley reportedly said the money would come from her campaign funds; on her final, Dec. 8 campaign finance report, Pressley recorded she held $7,384 in cash-on-hand.) Based on that information, a recount has been scheduled for this afternoon at 1pm at the Travis County Elections Division (5501 Airport Blvd.), where the County Clerk will assemble five teams to perform the recount – and five members of each candidate’s staff may watch the count. UPDATE 11:30 am: The D4 recount scheduled for Monday afternoon has been tentatively rescheduled for Tuesday morning (time not yet confirmed). Pressley has not yet submitted her $13,600 deposit; the deadline is 5pm Monday. Late Monday update: "Pressley Pays Up."

Recounts are normally requested only when the initial outcome is within a couple of hundred votes (as happened in D6 and D8, where the losing candidates did not request recounts). Asked for a reaction to Pressley’s unusual request, Council Member-elect Greg Casar responded that it “seems to be a misguided effort, but I respect and understand the process and look forward to the results, if there's a recount. I'm ready to serve.” For a report on the outcome, check this week's issue.

In other 10-1 news, Council Member-elect Don Zimmerman’s defamation suit against the Austin Bulldog is on Travis County’s civil docket today, Jan. 5, 2pm. Judge Amy Clark Meachum will hear arguments regarding the Bulldog’s motion to dismiss. Zimmerman could be forced to pay damages to the Bulldog if Meachum grants the motion. See this week's issue for a full update, and get the backstory here.

One person who will not be making an appearance in court this week is Antonio Buehler. His second Class C misdemeanor trial was scheduled to begin today, Jan. 5, but was dismissed by the city on Friday, Jan. 2. Buehler's attorney Millie Thompson wrote on Facebook that she’d “never been so damned disappointed over a dismissal.” Buehler’s previous trial led not only to an acquittal, but also brought attention to the grievances of then-APD Officer Jermaine Hopkins. For more on the dismissal and Buehler’s upcoming cases, see “Buehler’s Case Dismissed.”

Make a Federal Case, Why Don’t You? City of Austin attorneys are asking to move the recent suit over the city’s newly passed “source of income” rule from Travis County District Court to federal court. The ordinance would prevent landlords from refusing renters based on source of income, including Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher subsidies. The Austin Apartment Association swiftly filed suit just 24 hours after Council passed the rule, claiming the city is forcing landlords into mandatory participation with a federal program (Section 8), as the Chronicle previously reported. In a notice of removal filed Dec. 31 and signed by municipal attorney Meitra Farhadi, the city argues the AAA raises questions over the 5th and 14th Amendments and states the parties dispute whether the ordinance is preempted by a federal statute – therefore, it is necessary the case be heard before a U.S. District Court. Additionally, the notice reads, the federal questions raised by the AAA are “substantial insofar as they control whether state and local governmental entities can be preempted from furthering the important policy and goals set forth by the federal government to provide decent and affordable housing to all citizens.” The rule – which faces another potential legislative hurdle – is set to go into effect Jan. 12. Update: The District Court hearing scheduled for Monday, Jan. 5 at 2 p.m. has been cancelled.

Also requesting a move to federal court is former APD Det. Charles Kleinert, on trial for manslaughter for the death of Larry Jackson Jr. His attorney argues in a motion filed Dec. 31 that because Kleinert was assigned to the Central Texas Violent Crimes Task Force at the time of the shooting, he was acting as a federal officer, and so should be tried in federal, rather than Travis County, court. The motion could present a delay in an already long-awaited case. Adam Loewy, who represents Jackson’s parents in their civil suit for wrongful death, pointed out on Twitter that the jury pool for federal court would be broader (and presumably less liberal) than one comprised solely of Travis County residents.

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