Pressley to be Sanctioned by Judge

Mills calls some claims "unreasonable" or baseless

Visiting Judge Dan Mills said Thursday that defeated City Council candidate Laura Pressley and one of her attorneys, David Rogers, should pay sanctions for baseless claims in the election contest lawsuit filed against City Council Member Greg Casar. Mills estimated $93,000, but will refine those charges or could add penalties in a formal order.

Laura Pressley (Photo by Jana Birchum)

In a lengthy hearing that reargued many of Pressley’s claims that the District 4 run-off and subsequent recount had been mismanaged by Travis County and violated state law, Rogers (who no longer represents Pressley) and Mark Cohen (her current counsel) insisted that their various claims were neither “frivolous” nor had been presented in “bad faith.” Casar attorney Chuck Herring – testifying on attorneys’ fees as well as arguing on behalf of his client – insisted that Pressley and Rogers had not pursued “reasonable inquiry” before filing suit (as required by law), and that they knew or should have known that their legal action – rejected last month by Judge Mills in a “no evidence” summary judgment – was “baseless” and “frivolous.”

Council Member Greg Casar (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Mills summarized from the bench that Rogers and Pressley did not engage in “reasonable inquiry” on several claims, that to an extent the suit was filed in “bad faith,” and that they were imposing a unmerited and considerable legal and financial burden on CM Casar, although both their pleadings and Pressley’s testimony excluded Casar from any wrongdoing. Mills specifically described three Pressley contest claims as baseless: 1) that standard consolidation of polls for the run-off had “disenfranchised” her voters; 2) that she made false accusations against Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeavoir and others of “criminal” conduct in their management of the run-off and recount; and 3) that she made baseless accusations against the Clerk and others over “zero tapes” used in clearing electronic voting machines.

The judge did not immediately propose sanctions on the central legal claim of Pressley’s lawsuit: that “cast vote records” (counted by hand in the run-off recount) are not the same as “ballot images” named in law (although approved as such by previous court rulings and commonly used in election practice). After the ruling, Pressley noted that apparent exception and reiterated she intends to appeal both the summary judgment and any sanctions. “We’re disappointed,” Pressley said, “that we’re being sanctioned for telling the truth in a pleading. … The judge did not sanction us on the ballot image issue; and that’s the main argument."

Herring said the judge has chosen to “modify” his summary judgment ruling to include whatever sanctions he determines are reasonable, so it may be a few days or longer before the court issues a formal new order, and in the meantime both sides may submit additional briefs. The additional process may also delay any eventual appeal. “He won’t be revisiting the merits [of the lawsuit]," Herring said. “The only question he’s addressing now is whether the legal standards for sanctions have been met.” In brief, Herring described Pressley’s entire legal action as “a frivolous lawsuit with no legitimate basis in fact or law.”

More on the Pressley election contest and the legal proceedings is available here and here, see next week’s print edition.

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City Council 2015, District 4 Election Contest, December 2014 Runoff

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