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3 Judges hear Mayor, City Reps Recall Attempt Appeal

Tuesday marked Mayor John Cook’s latest attempt to bring a halt to his recall election.

Three justices with El Paso’s 8th Court of Appeals heard arguments from attorneys on both sides, with Cook’s attorney accusing recall organizers of violating state election law and attorneys for the recall calling it a matter of free speech.

“Nobody was contesting the facts, just whether or not this was a free speech issue or whether or not it was a political campaign issue,” said Cook, who was optimistic about the possibility of the appellate court bringing an end to the recall election. “My attorneys did a good job of expressing this was quite obviously a political campaign orchestrated by the corporation known as Word of Life Church.”

Cook and his attorney, Mark Walker, argued contributions of nearly $4,000 to the group El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values violated Texas Election Code.

“The other side said they were just expressing their opinion, but they were conducting a campaign,” Cook said.

Meanwhile, attorneys for Pastor Tom Brown said their client did nothing wrong.

“Corporations have a right, a fundamental right, to speak out,” said Joel Oster, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund and one of Brown’s attorneys. “Just like newspapers have a fundamental first amendment right to be involved and speak out, so does a church. All these citizens were so concerned about their local government they wanted to speak out and be heard on a political matter, and now they’re being drug into court because they wanted to speak, and that’s an affront to everything that America stands for.”

Brown’s other attorney, Theresa Caballero, accused Cook of violating the election code, as well, because he has yet to pay his legal fees.

“If he hasn’t paid, out of his own pocket, his legal fees, then what he is doing is he’s making an illegal campaign contribution to himself,” Caballero said. “Go ask him what he’s done because then he’ll say that’s not a violation, so if that’s not a violation, than this isn’t a violation.”

Oster and Caballero said they will appeal to a higher court if an injunction is filed, stopping the recall. Cook and Walker expect a decision within a week.

ABC-7 did ask Cook about his legal fees. He confirmed that he has yet to pay them. He added caballero would be correct if he were getting the work done pro-bono. But since he plans to pay them, Cook said he does not see them as a campaign contribution.

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