Last edited: February 14, 2005

GOPers Defend Anti-Sodomy Letter

Gary Polland addresses Texas Committee on Judicial Affairs

Texas Triangle, Oct 6 - Oct 12, 2000
315 W Alabama # 101, Houston, TX 77006
Tel: 713-521-5822 Fax: 713-521-5830

By Michael Baker

HOUSTON — Harris County Republican leaders vehemently defended on Sept. 27 a controversial letter that resulted in them being subpoenaed to a hearing led by the Texas Committee on Judicial Affairs in Houston.

The letter, drafted by Harris County GOP Treasurer Paul Simpson, called for Justice John Anderson of the 14th Court of Appeals to resign if he did not reverse his decision that the Texas homosexual conduct law was unconstitutional.

Anderson had written the majority decision for the three-judge panel that decided the case, agreeing that the sodomy law was unconstitutional under the Texas Equal Rights Amendment. But the court recently decided to rehear the case en banc, so the decision is still pending.

Simpson admits to circulating the letter, seeking signatures from 13 nearby County Republican Party Chairs, but says he has no idea how the letter got into the hands of the judge himself. Nor does Harris County GOP Chair Gary Polland, who requested that Simpson draft the letter.

The committee, headed by Texas Rep. Senfronia Thompson, continually stressed that its purpose was not to charge the Republican leaders with any crimes. "Our only role is to gather information and make a report," Thompson said. Other committee members said the purpose of the hearing was more to examine whether laws needed to be changed in order to

"We need to decide, is this a behavior we want to prohibit, or is it an evil we have to live with?" Rep. Jaime Capelo said.

Simpson said the letter was simply an exercise of his right to free speech. "You don’t lose that First Amendment right just because you get involved in politics."

But since it involved a pending case, Rep. Domingo Garcia did not see it as a simple expression of free speech. "I’ll tell you right now, I don’t think your actions were criminal," he said. "But it seems some kind of invisible line was crossed in trying to influence a judicial decision."

Simpson countered that even as he was writing the letter, he did not intend for it ever to reach Anderson, as he doubted it would result in a change in Anderson’s decision. "I realized it was a pointless exercise," Simpson said. "It was bad form."

But even if Anderson didn’t see it, Simpson said he always knew others would. "There was certainly the underlying assumption this would become public."

Teresa Collette, a law professor at South Texas College of Law, urged the committee not to act on the matter. "Polland executed poor judgment in allowing the draft to leave his office," she said. "But it’s simply the case of a frustrated lawyer expressing his anger in a document."

Polland said the impetus behind the letter was not necessarily to uphold the sodomy law, but to stop what he called a usurpation of the laws by the judicial system.

"If the legislature wants to strike down the sodomy law, fine," Polland said. "But it should be done by the legislature, not the courts."

Simpson seconded that, saying as far as changing the sodomy law, "The better route is through the legislature."

Opening his testimony by showing a copy of the Declaration of Independence, Polland said the hearing was an assault on his freedom of speech, even if he had decided to send the letter. "I do not believe it violates any rule or any law if it was sent and signed," he said.

He added that the decision not to send the letter to Anderson was his after the court decided to rehear the sodomy case en banc. He stressed his decision was based on his personal choice, not on the law.

Many of the Republican leaders and supporters present remained indignant that the hearing was even taking at all. "It appears we’re wasting each others’ time," Harris County Director of the Christian Coalition Ron Meinke said. "It appears we’re trying to take laws above the Bible."

Several other concerned citizens’ voluntarily approached the podium to voice their anger of Polland and Simpson being questioned. Some accused the mostly Democratic committee of playing partisan politics, even though the 14th Court of Appeals has a Republican majority.

Polland took his outrage a step further. "What you should be doing," Polland told the committee, "is investigate how this letter got to the court." But the mystery of how the letter arrived at the 14th Court of Appeals remained unsolved, despite questioning by the committee of every person to take the podium, regardless of the competency in the case.

The irony of the GOP forced to defend their constitutional rights was not lost on Mitchell Katine, one of the lawyers who did the same for the two men originally charged in the overturned homosexual conduct decision.

"The people here are arguing about the constitutionality of the statute," Katine said, "when that is the type of ruling that got us here in the first place."

[Home] [News] [Texas]