Fight Club at HCC: More Allegations Spill Out in College's Lawsuit Against Former General Counsel

Categories: Courts, Education

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photo by WhisperToMe via creative commons
First rule of Fight Club: don't talk about Fight Club.
If you believe Renee Byas, the Houston Community College Board of Trustees had devolved into a den of iniquity during her tenure at the school.

In court filings made this week in the drawn-out legal fight between Byas, the former general counsel fired by HCC last summer, and the multi-million dollar community college system, Byas outlines some explosive allegations against current and former members of the HCC board, including:

-- "How an HCC Trustee had taken free trips to places such as the Caribbean with an HCC vendor on the vendor's plane."

-- "How three HCC Trustees had entered into an agreement with an individual that the three Trustees would convince the HCC Board of Trustees to buy property from the individual and, in exchange, the three Trustees would receive 10% of the money that HCC paid to the seller."

And...(here's the kicker):

-- "How during a closed session meeting an HCC Trustee had accused another Trustee of accepting bribes and kickbacks and how the accused Trustee started punching the accuser."


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Judge Rules Anti-LGBT Activists Don't Have Enough Signatures to Trigger Anti-HERO Vote

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Flickr/torbackhopper HE DEAD
Under state law, anti-LGBT activists hoping to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance needed 17,249 signatures on their petition to trigger a public vote that they hope would ultimately repeal the non-discrimination ordinance. When former Houston City Attorney David Feldman tossed their petition last August, saying HERO foes had failed to gather enough valid signatures, it set in motion a tedious, mind-numbing court battle over how many of those signatures met legal standards.

On Friday afternoon, state District Judge Robert Schaffer came out with his final tally: 16,684 signatures, or 565 shy of what was needed to send the anti-discrimination ordinance to a public vote.

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What It's Like to be a Transgender Woman in a Texas Prison

Categories: Courts

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screenshot/lambdalegal.org
By November 2013, Passion Star had already faced a decade's worth of sexual assaults and death threats from other inmates when she again pleaded with prison officials at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Hughes Unit to put her in what's called "safekeeping," a classification category for "offenders identified as being more vulnerable than the average general population offender." Under TDCJ's Safe Prisons Plan, such vulnerable inmates, rather than being punished with solitary confinement or isolation, are housed separately but afforded the same programming and privileges as the rest of the prison's general population.

If anyone qualifies for safekeeping status, you'd think it would be Passion Star. Born Joshua Zollicoffer (which is still her legal name), Star is one of an untold number of transgender women in locked up in men's prisons across the country. And in TDCJ's own Safe Prisons Plan, guards are told that LGBT status should be given "serious consideration" when determining where to house an inmate and whether they're at increased risk of sexual assault.

However, not only did prison guards ignore Star's repeat requests for protection and deny the litany of grievances she filed contesting her housing assignment, their cold ambivalence made Star easy pickings inside lockup, according to court documents in a federal lawsuit Star filed against the state prison system last year.

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HCC Wants to Seal Records in Lawsuit. Again...

Categories: Courts, Education

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Houston Community College is attempting to seal internal records in the drawn-out legal battle with the former general counsel the college system fired last year.

If this sounds like deja vu, it should. Since early this year, HCC, one of the largest publicly-funded community college systems in the country, has aggressively fought to make sure documents related to its lawsuit against Renee Byas do not make their way into the public eye as the case winds through the courts. HCC lawyers have even gone so far as to argue that publicly-elected HCC board trustees are "representatives of the college," and not the public. A Harris County district court judge largely denied HCC's previous attempts, carving out only a few narrow exceptions under which documents in the case could be filed under seal.

At issue here is why HCC really fired its general counsel. On one hand, the college claims it fired Byas because she was "insubordinate" and because her contract extension with HCC was invalid (HCC says that only the board's chair, not the full board, signed her extension, and that Byas turned her extension back into HR five days late). On the other hand, Byas claims that HCC fired her in "attempt to silence a public servant who refused to let HCC's Board of Trustees use a $425 million public bond project as a private slush fund."

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Officer in Ticket-Rigging Scheme Accused of Lying Under Oath

Categories: Courts, Crime

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Scott Davidson via flickr
In January, Gregory Rosa was one of three Houston police officers charged with falsifying police reports in an apparent ticket-rigging scam. Authorities now claim Rosa lied under oath when one of his bogus traffic cases went to trial.

Per a felony indictment filed in Harris County yesterday, Rosa has been charged with aggravated perjury. According to court records, Rosa went before a municipal court judge in June 2013 and testified under oath that he'd witnessed a June 2013 traffic stop along Katy Freeway. Problem is, prosecutors allege, Rosa never witnessed that traffic stop.

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How Will Henri Morris Defend Himself Against Claims He Drugged and Molested an Employee He's Already Admitted to Drugging and Molesting?

Categories: Courts, Crime

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screenshot via KPRC

On a Wednesday morning last December, 67-year-old Henri Morris sat slumped over in his chair at a defense table inside the federal courthouse in downtown Houston. Morris listened intently, occasionally shaking his head as his attorney quietly talked him through a plea deal he'd arranged with federal prosecutors.

The day before, jurors had listened to opening statements that previewed the nauseating details of the case against Morris: How Morris, former CEO of the local tech company Edible Software, asked younger female employees to accompany him on business trips; how Morris insisted on pouring the women drinks that tasted unusually, bitterly strong; how women who traveled with Morris kept blacking out; how some awoke disoriented and naked in hotel rooms alone with Morris; and how, upon executing a search warrant, FBI investigators found date-rape drugs in Morris's luggage and photos of nude, incapacitated women on his thumb drives.


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Judge: Anti-HERO Signatures Shy of Referendum, But There Are Still More to Count

Categories: Courts

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Flickr/torbackhopper HE DEAD
Come Mr. Tally Man, tally me signatures.
Opponents of the city's equal rights ordinance are still about 3,000 signatures short of the amount required for a referendum, the Houston Chronicle is reporting. But 8,500 more signatures are still to be reviewed for authenticity.

A coalition of conservatives who opposed the bill submitted what they said were enough valid signatures last year, but city officials questioned the legitimacy of many of the signatures, and said the ordinance's opponents fell short. The opponents sued the city, and a jury found in March that their petition "contained forgery and other flaws."

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Texas Finds a New Drug Dealer

Categories: Courts, Crime

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TDCJ
Texas prison officials said Wednesday they've acquired a new "small supply" of pentobarbital, the barbiturate Texas uses to execute prisoners by lethal injection, according to the AP. That means Texas has at least enough lethal-injection drugs on hand to kill all four prisoners slated for execution in April.

And, as is becoming standard practice in death penalty states across the country, Texas won't disclose the supplier of its new batch of death drugs.

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Animal "Crush" Couple Will Again Face Federal Charges

Categories: Courts

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Going back to federal court.
The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review an appeal in what's believed to be the first prosecution of an animal torture video under a 2010 statute, meaning the Houston couple accused of producing "crush" videos will once again face federal prosecution.

Ashley Richards and Brent Justice also faced state animal cruelty charges for the actions depicted in one of many gruesome videos they sold to consumers; Richards pleaded guilty in 2013 and sentenced to ten years. She's expected to testify against Justice, whose trial is set for May 1.

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TDCJ Is Running Out of Execution Drugs. Again.

Categories: Courts, Crime

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Photo by Ken Piorkowski

Manuel Vasquez, once an enforcer for the Mexican Mafia, was sentenced to die by lethal injection in 1999 for beating and strangling a San Antonio woman who failed to pay the gang's "dime," a 10 percent kick-back on drug sales. Tonight, if all goes as planned, he'll die after Texas prison officials shoot a large dose of compounded pentobarbital, a powerful barbiturate, into his veins.

Randall Wayne Mays, who in 2008 was convicted and sentenced to death for killing two Henderson County lawmen, will meet the same fate as Vasquez on March 18. After that, it's up in the air how or if Texas prison officials will kill the five remaining death-row inmates scheduled for lethal injection over the next two months.


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