There has been an outpouring of outrage over the subpoenas issued by the city of Houston to several local pastors for sermons and private communications with their churches. Late today, the city decided to plead incompetence, ignorance, illiteracy, or a combination of all three,according to the Houston Chronicle:

Amid outrage from religious groups, Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman on Wednesday appeared to back off a subpoena request for the sermons of certain ministers opposed to the city’s equal rights ordinance, with Parker calling it overly broad.

The subpoenas, handed down to five pastors and religious leaders last month, came to light this week when attorneys for the group of pastors filed a motion to quash the request. Though Feldman stood behind the subpoena in an interview Tuesday, he and Parker said during the Mayor’s weekly press conference Wednesday that the wording was problematic.

Feldman is monitoring the case, he said, but had not seen the subpoena written by outside counsel working pro-bono for the city until this week. Parker said she also did not know about the request until this week.

Have to wonder: does the city of Houston, the fourth largest in the United States, normally farm out sensitive city legal business to outside lawyers, and then not bother to read what’s been submitted in its name by them?

“There’s no question the wording was overly broad,” she said. “But I also think there was some misinterpretation on the other side.”

Umm, that would be no:

YOU ARE COMMANDED to appear and produce and permit inspection and copying of the documents identified in the attached “Exhibit A” at the offices of SUSMAN GODFREY LLP, 1000 Louisiana Street, Suite 5100, Houston Texas 77002, on October 10,2014 by 5PM.

EXHIBIT A TO SUBPOENA ON PASTOR STEVE RIGGLE

3. “Document” and “documents,” mean all documents and tangible things, in the broadest sense allowed by Rule 192.3(b) and comment 2 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, and include, but are not limited to, any writings, drawings, graphs, charts, photographs, phonograph records, tape recordings, notes, diaries, calendars, checkbooks, books, papers, accounts, electronic or videotape recordings, and any computer-generated, computer-stored, or electronically-stored matter that constitute or contain matters relevant to the subject matter of this lawsuit. The terms include, but are not limited to, emails, instant messages, text messages, or other responsive data or information that exists in electronic or magnetic form, and such responsive data should be produced pursuant to Rule 196.4 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.

4. “Communications” means every direct or indirect disclosure, receipt, transfer, or exchange of information, inquiry or opinion, however made, whether oral, visual, in writing or otherwise, including without limitation any conversation or discussion by means of letter, note, package, invoice, statement, notice, memorandum, inter-office correspondence, telephone, telegraph, email, telex, telecopies, text message, instant message, cable communicating data processors, or some other electronic or other medium.

10. You are to produce all documents, as defined above, that are in Your possession, control or custody or in the possession, control or custody of any attorney for You. Without limiting the term “control,” a document is deemed to be within Your control if You have ownership, possession or custody of the document, or the right to secure the document or copy thereof from any person or public or private entity having physical possession thereof.

11. All duplicates or copies of documents are to be provided to the extent they have handwriting, additions, or deletions of any kind different from the original document being produced.

II. REQUESTED DOCUMENTS

1. All documents or communications to, from, CCing, BCCing, or forwarded to you, or otherwise in your possession, relating or referring to any of the following in connection in any way with HERO, the Petition:
a. Plaintiffs,
b. Annise Parker or the Mayor’s office,
c. Anna Russell or the City Secretary’s office,
d. David Feldman or the City Attorney’s office,
e. HERO or any drafts of HERO,
f. the Petition, or any drafts of the Petition, including any discussions relating to the language included at the top of the Petition,
g. the legal requirements for petitions under Texas, Houston municipal, or any other law,
h. Petition signers,
i. Petition Circulators,
j. affidavits filled out by Petition Circulators, including the notarization of the affidavits,
k. the payment of Petition Circulators,
l. funding of the Petition or petition drives,
m. the topics of equal rights, civil rights, homosexuality, or gender identity,
n. language relating to restroom access,
o. language related to restroom access being or having been removed from a version of HERO, including any communications related to the removal of that language,
p. any discussion about whether or how HERO does or does not impact restroom access.
2. All communications to or from Plaintiffs.
3. All communications with the City regarding HERO or the Petition.
4. All communications with members of your congregation regarding HERO or the Petition.
5. All communications with Joe La Rue or anyone else at the “Alliance Defending Freedom” regarding HERO or the Petition.
6. All drafts of the Petition.
7. All lists of Petition Circulators.
8. All communications to or from Petition Circulators.
9. Any documents relating to the payment of Petition Circulators, including but not limited to:
10 a. budgets related to the payment of Petition Circulators,
b. check stubs or check registers reflecting payments to Petition Circulators,
c. copies of checks made out to Petition Circulators,
d. tax forms relating to the payment of Petition circulators,
e. documents explaining calculation of payment to Petition Circulators,
f. documents referencing incentives given to Petition Circulators for obtaining
certain numbers of signatures or completing a certain number of pages.
10. Any documents relating to funding and funding sources of the Petition and Petition-related activities.
11. All training materials prepared for Petition Circulators or anyone else involved in the collection of any signatures for the Petition.
12. All speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.
13. All documents, studies, information, communications, or other data relied on in connection with the Petition to check, confirm, or ensure the truthfulness and accuracy of the statements made in the Petition, including but not limited to the statements in the Petition (or in any training materials prepared for Petition Circulators or anyone else involved in the collection of any signatures for the Petition) that “Biological males ARE IN FACT allowed to enter women’s restrooms in Houston under Mayor Annise Parker’s “Equal Rights Ordinance”, thereby threatening the physical and emotional safety of our women and children!” and that “Her ERO creates UNequal Rights for a tiny group of people by taking away rights of safety and privacy for the vast majority of our women and children!”) (emphasis in original).
14. All documents, studies, information, communications, or other data that you believe support or demonstrate the truthfulness and accuracy of the statements made in the Petition, including but not limited to the statements in the Petition (or in any training materials prepared for Petition Circulators or anyone else involved in the collection of any signatures for the Petition) that “Biological males ARE IN FACT allowed to enter women’s restrooms in
Houston under Mayor Annise Parker’s “Equal Rights Ordinance”, thereby threatening the physical and emotional safety of our women and children!” and that “Her ERO creates UNequal Rights for a tiny group of people by taking away rights of safety and privacy for the vast majority of our women and children!”) (emphasis in original).
15. All communications with Pastor Dave Welch or anyone else at or associated with the Houston Area Pastor Council referring or relating to HERO, restroom access in connection with HERO, the Petition, or this litigation.
16. All documents or communications reflecting or relating to the validity of signatures on the Petition or the validity of any Petition Pages, including but not limited to correspondence, notes, spreadsheets, or other documents regarding:
a. the validity of signatures,
b. the registered-voter status of any signatories,
c. the number of valid signatures,
d. the validity of Petition pages,
e. the validity of Circulator Oaths.
17. Your updated resume or curriculum vitae.

I’m no lawyer, but I can read English, and there’s no question that the city is looking to collect material from non-plaintiffs that it can then use in court to smear those who supported the petition (the purpose of which would have been to put repeal of the ordinance before city voters).

“Let me just say that one word in a very long legal document which I know nothing about and would never have read and I’m vilified coast to coast,” Parker said. “It’s a normal day at the office for me.”

Sorry, Mayor. The law firm acts in the name of the city you govern, you own it.

The intent, Feldman said, was simply to get all communications between pastors about the signature gathering instructions, a key part of a lawsuit opponents have brought against the city. Critics filed suit after Feldman announced they had failed to gather enough valid signatures to force a repeal referendum, claiming the city attorney illegally inserted himself in the signature verification process.

That’s a blatant lie. The communications sought were not just about “signature gathering instructions.” They were, instead, an attempt to gather materials that would expose what the mayor and her cronies abviously consider to be the Neanderthal, homophobic attitudes of people who supported the petition. If that was not the case, why ask for stuff like “All speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity,” or “all documents and communications…[dealing with] the topics of equal rights, civil rights, homosexuality, or gender identity”? Those items are not about the petition gathering process, but about the petitioners’ motivations for opposing the ordinance.

Feldman said the city would clarify what it is looking for in its response to the pastors’ motion.

“I wouldn’t have worded it that way myself,” Feldman said of the request. “It’s unfortunate that it has been construed as some effort to infringe upon religious beliefs.”

Translation: “Curses, foiled again! &$@* Christians!”