Court Orders Houston Democrats to Place Judge George Powell’s Name on Ballot

The judge ordered the Harris County Democratic Party to accept 351st District Judge George Powell’s application, certify him as a candidate and place his name on the ballot.
In a lawsuit over a botched election filing fee, a court on Tuesday ordered the Harris County Democratic Party to place 351st District Judge George Powell’s name on the primary ballot.

Powell, of Houston, is entitled to appear on the Democratic Primary ballot in his reelection campaign, despite his local party’s allegations that he didn’t pay enough in filing fees when he applied to run, ruled 234th District Judge Lauren Reeder of Houston.

The court granted Powell’s request for a temporary injunction, finding that there’s a substantial likelihood that his lawsuit will succeed. Reeder also ordered the party to accept Powell’s application, certify him as a candidate and place his name on the primary ballot.

“I’m extremely happy for Judge Powell,” said his attorney, Kent Schaffer, partner in Schaffer Carter & Associates in Houston. “I think he’s going to go on to get his second term.”

The Harris County Democratic Party released a statement that said it regretted the situation in which Powell had found himself. But it said it had to follow the law by requiring him to seek court intervention.

“The Texas Legislature and its current leadership passed laws making it illegal to remedy any mistakes without court invention,” the statement said.

Powell alleged in the lawsuit that the party rejected his application for the ballot, claiming he had paid just $1,500 when he owed a $2,500 filing fee. His argument was that a party staff member incorrectly told him to pay just $1,500, and another staffer made a mistake by accepting his application without noticing the fee problem. He claimed that the party should have allowed him a chance to fix its own errors.

Powell also had helped another candidate by paying her $2,500 filing fee, since she only had a debit card and the party wouldn’t accept it. That candidate ultimately was rejected, and Powell argued the party should have applied the amount he had paid for her to his own filing fee.

The court ruled in the temporary injunction order that Powell paid his $2,500 filing fee to run for reelection to Harris County’s 351st District Court before the deadline Dec. 9. The party deposited the $2,500 into its bank account, as well as another $1,500 that Powell paid before the filing deadline.

“Nevertheless, the Harris County Democratic Party subsequently, and improperly, rejected Powell’s application based solely on the amount of the filing fee paid by Powell,” said the temporary injunction order. “Powell is entitled to be included on the ballot.”

The court’s order on Tuesday said it was reasonable for Powell to rely on the statements and assurances of the party staffer who told him to pay $1,500.

If the court had denied Powell injunctive relief, it would have caused him irreparable harm, because he would have lost his job by not being allowed to run for reelection, the order said.

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In contrast, the harm would be lesser to Natalia Cornelio, a Democratic candidate who is running for the 351st District Court.

The court ruled Cornelio only faces harm from now being unable to run unopposed in the primary. Powell’s harm outweighs hers, and so does “the voters’ interest in electing the candidate of their choice,” said the order.

The court set a trial date in Powell’s lawsuit for June 22, and stated that the temporary injunction must remain in place until that time.

The defendants’ attorney, Feldman & Feldman founding partner Cris Feldman of Houston, didn’t immediately return a call or email seeking comment. Neither did Cornelio’s lawyer, Larry Veselka, co-founding partner in Smyser Kaplan & Veselka in Houston.

https://www.law.com/texaslawyer/2020/01/08/court-orders-houston-democrats-to-place-judge-george-powells-name-on-ballot/?slreturn=20200008173518
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