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Recall Petitioners Have Two Choices, Both Are Gamble

After the Eighth Court of Appeals’ decision to stop the April 14 recall election, petitioners can head in two directions. They could theoretically start the recall process all over again or they can try to take this to the state Supreme Court.

Both options would be a gamble.

If the petitioners chose to start the recall process over and again circulate petitions, they’d be on a tight deadline. The city charter does not allow for recall petitions to be turned in within the last year of the elected official’s term in office. For Mayor John Cook and city representatives Steve Ortega and Susie Byrd their last year begins in June.

“That’s a very short timeline, I don’t know if it’s possible or impossible, but I do know it’s short,” City Clerk Richarda Momsen said on Monday. She is tasked with verifying the recall signatures.

To do that, the petitioners would have to file a notice of intent to recall with Momsen’s office. That notice would have to include the official reason for the recall efforts. Petitioners would then have 60 days to circulate the petitions. After that, they’d turn it in to the Momsen, who’s office would have 10 working days to verify the signatures came from eligible, registered voters. If they did, City Council would vote on a recall election. Momsen said her office had not yet calculated when the last day to start the process would be.

The city charter’s section 3.21C in part reads: “no recall petition shall be filed against any elected officer within six months after taking office nor within twelve months of the end of the elected officer’s term of office.”

Even if petitioners filed the petitions before the council members’ last year in office begins, the election would be held during their last twelve months in elected office.

“I fear that part of that may be a legal question, needing legal interpretation,” said Momsen, when asked if that’d be allowed.

Recall organizer and Word of Life Pastor Tom Brown, refused an interview with ABC-7 Monday. In a phone conversation, he said his group did not plan to gather more signatures at this point, because he was sure the state Supreme Court would not only hear the case, but side with petitioners.

The mayor’s attorney, Mark Walker, disagreed.

“The circumstances for which the Texas Supreme Court can even consider reviewing this opinion are very, very limited and I really don’t think will apply here,” Walker told ABC-7 Friday.

The mayor’s lawyer calls this case an interlocutory appeal, meaning Judge Javier Alvarez made a ruling before the case was over. For the Supreme Court to hear that, there would have to be dissent from the three justices on the appeals court. That is not the case here because the decision was unanimous.

There would also have to be a conflicting opinion from another appeals court. ABC-7 couldn’t find one.

However, the state Supreme Court has ultimate discretion when deciding what cases to take on. If it decides the petitioners’ case has statewide importance, they may hear it.

Petitioners’ lawyer, Joel Oster, did not return ABC-7’s phone calls by the time of this article’s publication and recall organizer, Ignacio Padilla, who was out of town, declined a phone interview.

The appeals court, made up of Chief Justice Ann Crawford McClure, Justice Guadalupe Rivera, and Justice Chris Antcliff, ruled unanimously on Friday that petitioners broke the Texas Election Code by not re-purposing their political action committee – El Pasoans For Traditional Family Values – for the recall efforts.

Originally, El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values was classified as a PAC for the ballot initiative meant to take away the health insurance of gay and unwed partners of city employees, not as a recall group.

Brown started the recall efforts because Cook, Byrd and Ortega did not implement a November 2010 voter-approved ordinance to take away the health insurance of gay and unmarried partners of city employees.

The way city attorneys interpreted the voter-approved initiative, more than 100 unintended people would also lose their health insurance if the vaguely-worded ordinance would have taken effect. The ordinance was written by El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values, the same group trying to recall the mayor.

The group wrote the ordinance without the help of an attorney after El Paso City Council extended health benefits to 19 city domestic partners. Ordinance supporters said they did not want their tax dollars funding the health benefits of unmarried couples and people in homosexual relationships, which some believe are an abomination to God. The health benefits are not completely tax-payer funded. City employees also pay for their insurance.

Related Links:Link: Full Eighth Court Of Appeals Ruling In Recall Case

Video: ABC-7 Xtra: Recall Dead?

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