Mayor Annise Parker and the city of Houston have moved a lawsuit challenging same-sex benefits out of Republican Judge Lisa Millard’s court after she allegedly halted the benefits without giving the city proper notice.
City Attorney David Feldman filed a “Notice of Removal” on Friday saying the lawsuit belongs in U.S. district court instead of state court because it raises federal questions, including the guarantees of equal protection and due process under the U.S. Constitution. The notice of removal says Millard, who presides over the 310th State District Family Court, failed to notify Parker and the city before holding a hearing at 5 p.m. on Dec. 17 — the same day the lawsuit was filed — and issuing an order halting the benefits.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Harris County Republicans Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks, allege the same-sex benefits violate the city’s charter and Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage. The plaintiffs are represented by Harris GOP chair Jared Woodfill, an attorney who has said the suit belongs in Millard’s court because it relates to statutes banning same-sex marriage in the Texas Family Code.
According to a legal expert, the notice of removal filed by the city on Friday automatically moves the case into federal court for the time being. To get it back in state court, the plaintiffs would have to ask a federal judge to remand it.
The lawsuit is one of two the city and Parker are facing over the benefits, which she extended in November to the same-sex spouses of city employees who are legally married in other states. The other lawsuit was filed Thursday on behalf of gay city employees who signed up for the benefits but lost them as a result of Millard’s order.
It’s possible the two opposing lawsuits over same-sex benefits in Houston will now be consolidated in federal court, where they would effectively represent a fourth pending case related to the legality of the state’s marriage bans.
Read the notice of removal below.