Pressley’s Zombie Council Fight Gets Snuffed

Texas Supreme Court declares an end to 2014(!) city election

Pressley’s Zombie Council Fight Gets Snuffed
Photo by Jana Birchum

On Friday, Jan. 25, the Texas Supreme Court finally – finally – brought an official conclusion to the 2014 Austin City Council District 4 election, ruling that candidate Laura Pressley's challenge of her defeat by Greg Casar is "moot" – that is, over and done with – "now that the term in question has expired and no exception to the mootness doctrine applies." By the court's reasoning, Pressley's case became moot in January 2017, when Casar's initial two-year term ended (his current four-year term ends in 2021). The ruling confirmed the identical judgments of both the state district court and the Third Court of Appeals ("The Never-Ending Election Contest," June 1, 2018).

Casar released a statement thanking his attorneys and the supporters who contributed to his legal defense, and welcoming the confirmation of his 2014 election. "Today, the Texas Supreme Court confirmed what everyone has known all along: in 2014, 35% of District 4 voters cast a ballot for Laura Pressley, and 65% of them cast their ballots for me. Since 2014, we have dealt with a manual recount, Pressley's lawsuit against me, and appearances in front of a trial court, the [3rd] Court of Appeals, and the Texas Supreme Court. Every step of the way, the authorities ruled that Pressley's attacks against Austin's elections were completely without merit."

Nevertheless, later on Friday, Pressley released her own statement – declaring victory. "Election Integrity Prevails!" she wrote. Omitting any mention of the court's "mootness" ruling, Pressley celebrated the TSC's decision not to uphold the financial sanctions imposed upon her and her attorney by the lower courts for their "frivolous" claims (including accusing election officials of crimes). Those courts held Pressley's claims were not only without merit, but without "more than a mere scintilla of evidence" and made in bad faith – thus meriting fines in cumulative excess of $150,000.

The TSC overturned these sanctions without entertaining oral argument – thus evading the absurdities displayed in the earlier proceedings – and held that Pressley's rejected claims were at least potentially factual, and thus not "frivolous," and that the lower courts had "abused their discretion." It's a self-contradicting argument – if Pressley's claims had potential merit, why didn't the Supreme Court care to hear them?

A possible explanation can be found in a 2017 amicus brief filed on Pressley's behalf by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. It suggested that one of Pressley's claims – that the electronic voting machines widely used in Texas might not adequately "number" ballots as specified in the Election Code – was "worthy of the Court's review." (Both the Texas Sec­re­tary of State and the Texas Association of Coun­ties disagreed). The court sidestepped that issue, but without the more-than-local interest in the case signaled by Paxton, it likely would not have accepted review at all.

Meanwhile, Pressley continues her new career as a self-described "election security technologist," challenging electronic voting across Texas (while fundraising among credulous election skeptics). The Supreme Court tossing the sanctions against her provides an open invitation to Pressley-like lawsuits, based on vague suspicions, outlandish statistical theories, or simply losing candidates' refusal to acknowledge reality. As Casar's appellate attorney Kurt Kuhn put it, "Hopefully future losing candidates will recognize that 'not frivolous' is not a worthwhile aspiration justifying a lawsuit, and our courts and elected officials won't have to waste even more time and resources on lawsuits against the candidates 'who received the most votes.'"

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin City Council, 2014 council election, City Council, District 4, Greg Casar, Laura Pressley, Texas Supreme Court, Kurt Kuhn, electronic voting

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