News Bullets

Hortense Lawson
Hortense Lawson (Courtesy of Frank Fuller)

Community Gardening Stalwart Dies

Eastside neighborhood matriarch Cleo Hortense Lawson was adored as much for her decades of community gardening as for her civic contributions as (among other things) a Travis County elections judge and pillar of St. James' Episcopal Church. She died July 26 of natural causes at the age of 93. For more than 25 years, Lawson tended the Harvey Street Community Garden across from her home on 18½ Street, introducing many to gardening and bringing McKinley Heights neighbors together. Lawson was among the founding board members of the Austin Community Gardens in the 1970s, which was absorbed into the Sustainable Food Center in 2001. The center's Emily Neiman said many of the organization's longtime members cite Lawson as the reason they got involved. Lawson will likely be memorialized with a tree planting or new garden dedication. Sadly, in 2006, Lawson's great-nephew, having inherited the land housing the Harvey Street Garden, hastily ordered a group of neighborhood gardeners off the property, resulting in several confrontations (see Eastside Neighborhood Garden Uprooted, March 31, 2006). The property remains empty today. A memorial for Lawson will be held at 6pm, Thursday (today), at St. James' Episcopal Church, 1941 Webberville Rd. – Daniel Mottola

Way to Go, Gay Place

Rooty toot toot! Gay Place, the always fruitful column found each week in the back of this here book, has been recognized by the United Court of Austin for being a "trusted and valued information source" to the GLBT community. The nonprofit group will honor the Chronicle and, more importantly, Gay Place scribes Kate X Messer and Kate Getty with the 2008 Phoenix Award at its annual gala Saturday night. Curious about the UCA? See www.unitedcourtofaustin.org. Curious about Gay Place? See austinchronicle.com/gayplaceblog. – Amy Smith

Moment of Silence Goes to Court

On Monday, state Attorney General Greg Abbott filed a brief defending a state law requiring a mandatory moment of silence at the beginning of the day in Texas schools. A case challenging the constitutionality of the law is set to go before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. In the brief, Abbott argues that the law serves a "secular purpose," which is to "provide an opportunity for students to engage in thoughtful contemplation." But opponents of the law see it as a maneuver by religious conservatives to sneak prayer into schools through the back door. The plaintiffs in the case, the Croft family, brought a suit against Gov. Rick Perry and the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District in 2006, complaining that the law violated church-state separation. A federal judge found the law to be constitutional in January, so now the Crofts are back in court. The case is set to go before a judge sometime this fall. – Justin Ward

José Medellín
José Medellín

Medellín Executed

Despite last-minute legal wrangling and the pleas of state and international officials, Mexican national José Ernesto Medellín was put to death Aug. 5 in Huntsville. Medellín was sentenced to die for the brutal 1993 gang rape and murder of two teen girls in Houston. Medellín's case was one of 52 originally named in a lawsuit brought against the U.S. by Mexico in the United Nation's International Court of Justice, also called the World Court. Mexico argued that the U.S. had violated the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which provides foreign nationals the right to contact consular officials when arrested or detained abroad. The ICJ agreed that the U.S. violated the Convention and ordered the government to have their cases reviewed by state courts. Texas balked, arguing that state officials are not required to comply with the provisions of international treaties. The ICJ, international-law experts, and state officials, including Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, urged officials, including Gov. Rick Perry – to no avail – to stay Medellín's execution, pending passage of a federal law that would give effect to the ICJ's decision in favor of Mexico. Ellis and others argued that violating the international law would place Americans abroad in jeopardy. (For more, see Those Who Are About to Die, Aug. 1.) – Jordan Smith

Cactus Planter on Trial

The art vs. junk argument returned to federal court on Aug. 5, as U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks pondered whether Ralph the Cactus Planter – a converted Oldsmobile 88 in front of the Planet K store in San Marcos – is constitutionally protected free speech. San Marcos Fire Marshal Ken Bell gave testimony that the store was cited last November for violating the city's junked car ordinance. But Sparks heard testimony from Planet K CEO Michael Kleinman, as well as from Scott Wade and John "Furly" Travis, the artists who turned Ralph into an installation. "They testified about their intent and why they used a junked car rather than another medium," said Planet K's lawyer Pete Kennedy (who also represents The Austin Chronicle). Professor Bob Bednar, chair of Communication Studies at Southwestern University, also gave evidence about the cultural history of unusual and reclaimed pieces like Ralph. Kleinman said he was baffled by why San Marcos ever pursued the case and added, "What would be curious would be to see how much [the city] has spent on this, while there are homeless and hungry people 10 minutes away from here." Sparks gave no indication when he'd rule. – Richard Whittaker

Mayor Wynn  à la Demling
Mayor Wynn à la Demling ((Apologies to) John Anderson)

City Hall Hustle: Episode Eight

Is someone spiking the water at City Hall with testosterone and human growth hormone? No, this is just a peek from City Hall Hustle's retrospective-extravaganza, "Back in the Dais: The Hustle Gets Clipped," featuring outtakes and highlights from CHH's interviews and election coverage, plus a few new surprises and special guests. Relive the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat: Watch City Hall Hustle, the Chronicle's video-blog. Wells Dunbar


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