The November 1st MPNA meeting included discussion regarding how best to make our voices heard by Kenneth Hoyt, Judge for the Southern District of Texas, where the ACLU suit challenging the City of Houston's no-camping ordinance is being heard. One MPNA member at the meeting reported that she had sent a letter to the Judge recounting the impact of the encampment on her as a Museum Park resident. Discussion followed regarding a possible letter writing campaign from the neighborhood.
After the meeting, Kathleen O'Reilly and I reached out to two attorneys--one working in another federal court of the Southern District (not Judge Hoyt's) and to our very own board member and municipal attorney, Kim Mickelson requesting their input. Here is a summary of their thoughts:
1. Letters, photos, etc from the neighborhood are not helpful, and are not entered as evidence. The MPNA member's letter was stamped as filed with the Court to acknowledge that it was received and is part of the record to avoid improper unilateral communications (ex parte communications). It isn’t considered evidence or material to the matter at hand, which is limited solely to the constitutionality of the ordinance and unfortunately doesn’t include or consider impacts to adjacent properties, property owners, or the neighborhood.
Appearing at hearings, etc., doesn’t influence the judge’s thinking. It shows community interest, but Judge is, or should be, indifferent to presence; he is evaluating merits of the case based on the law, not how many people are in the courtroom.
2. It is possible, but unlikely, that individuals in the neighborhood could be called as witnesses. However, the case is about the constitutionality of the ordinances and enforcement, not criminal activity or any impact on the neighborhood. Criminal activity can be addressed by other ordinances, not those that are being challenged.
3. An attorney can be hired to file an amicus brief if the neighborhood would like to be involved. However, the case is about constitutionality of the ordinances, rather than neighborhood impact. The legal costs of that approach may outweigh the benefits involved as well as having the potential to further delay the resolution of the case.
Based on the professional advice of these two attorneys, the Board does not believe spearheading a letter-writing campaign is way forward at this time.
Individuals, of course, should pursue whatever course they feel appropriate.
I have asked the ad hoc committee to continue their evaluation in determining an effective path forward. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions.
Sandy Stevens, President