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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Friday, June 19, 2015 by Jo Clifton
Hearing on sanctions against Pressley to continue
Chuck Herring, one of the attorneys for City Council Member Greg Casar, said Thursday that he will be asking for more than $150,000 in fees already expended by Casar’s legal team in defending a lawsuit brought by former District 4 Council opponent Laura Pressley. In addition, Herring said he will be asking for about $100,000 for the legal fees he expects to incur during the appeal process. Herring made his comments to members of the media attending Thursday’s legal hearing at the Travis County Courthouse.
Pressley’s suit made allegations concerning the December runoff election, specifically complaining about how the recount was conducted. However, visiting Judge Dan Mills found that her complaints were groundless and dismissed the case.
Casar won the Dec. 16 runoff by a margin of 1,291 votes, or approximately 65 percent to 35 percent.
Herring noted that the judge has the discretion to assess a penalty for abuse of the legal process. “This is frivolous litigation, and we need to not have this happen,” Herring said. He explained that a similar lawsuit could be filed against any member of Council or any other officeholders in Travis County.
Pressley has said that she intends to appeal the decision and has been raising money to do so. Herring and the other attorneys are seeking to sanction Pressley and her former attorney, David Rogers.
According to Casar’s motion for sanctions, Pressley’s lawsuit “failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact.” Herring and his co-counsel, Jessica Palvino of McGinnis, Lochridge and Kilgore, explained in their pleadings that a lawyer who signs a pleading or motion is certifying that “each claim, each allegation, and each denial is based on the (lawyer’s) best knowledge, information, and belief, formed after reasonable inquiry.”
Most of Thursday’s hearing related to whether Pressley or Rogers had any reasonable basis for their allegations and whether Rogers had actually done the work to find out whether Pressley’s allegations had any evidentiary support.
Rogers testified that he has been involved in seven or eight election cases, including one in Tarrant County, which he won. In that case he said, “I know the Hart (electronic voting) system is not reliable,” specifying that it had been “off by 40 percent.”
If Casar’s attorneys are successful, which seems likely based on the testimony during Thursday’s hearing as well as the previous hearing when the case was dismissed, Mills will have to decide whether to sanction Pressley, Rogers or both. He will then have to decide how much money to require each of them to pay Casar’s attorneys.
Part of the inquiry on Thursday centered around Pressley’s education — she has a Ph.D. — and experience with Council, as well as her involvement in drafting the lawsuit. Pressley said she did a lot of work on the lawsuit, frequently staying up until 3 a.m. to work on it and trying to save money.
Pressley testified that she has paid Rogers about $32,000, but that he is no longer representing her. Rogers said his team did $87,000 worth of work but got paid only $32,500.
Mark Cohen represented Pressley at Thursday’s hearing and at the previous hearing. He did not draft any of the pleadings making allegations about the election and the recount, and Casar’s attorneys are not attempting to get him to pay attorney’s fees. Pressley testified that she had raised about $30,000 to $40,000 for the lawsuit. She said she has spent a minimum of $15,000 of her own money on the case.
Under questioning, Pressley said her Pure Rain company makes about $50,000 to 60,000 a year. She said her husband earns between $130,000 and $160,000 a year, but that she has no income because she reinvests all the money she makes back into her company. That company has a bank balance of about $170,000, she said.
Pressley said she no longer owns a house; she and her husband sold their home about a year and half ago for about $530,000. She said she did not remember how much of that was profit and how much was used to pay off the mortgage.
Former candidates are allowed to raise money to fund election contests, and Casar is also raising money to pay his lawyers.
Mills said it was important to finish the hearing and make a decision, so he will try to find a courtroom in which to do that early next week. If Mills rules in favor of Casar and awards attorney’s fees, Pressley can appeal that along with her other complaints.
Despite the possibility that she may be forced to pay a very large amount of Casar’s legal fees, Pressley has not given up on her cause and said she is looking forward to the appeal.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council November 2014 Elections: The November 2014 Austin City Council elections marked a shift from an all-at-large City Council to one elected based mostly on geographic districts. The city's Mayor remains elected at-large.
District 4: District 4 is bordered by Lamar Boulevard and US 183 on the west, by Cameron Road on the east, 51st Street on the south and Braker Lane on the north.
Greg Casar: Austin City Council member for District 4
Laura Pressley: Among other things, Laura Pressley ran for the District 4 seat of City Council in 2014. After losing that election, Pressley sued, launching a larger battle against electronic voting that persisted well after the election concluded.