Notes From the Wet-Dry Hearing (So Far)

This morning's hearing got started an hour late, and court's in recess till 1 p.m. -- I've sent Intern Jesse to cover the afternoon portion of the proceedings. Should be interesting: Shortly before Judge Laurine Blake called for the noontime lunch break, City Secretary Deborah Watkins was on the stand testifying about the events over the summer that led to her certifying the petitions that led to the citywide referendum on November 2 calling for the off-premise sale of beer and wine citywide, which voters overwhelmingly approved.

At dispute, among other things, is the language Watkins used when initially telling the city council there were enough signatures to trigger the local option election. Did she base her OK on the number of "registered voters," as she initially told council in a memo, or "qualified voters," as mandated by the Texas Election Code. When we broke, Leland de la Garza was about to grill Watkins over language contained in the Petition Verification Manual printed by the city in May 2010. De la Garza, working with attorney Andy Siegel, still insists the council called the election despite the fact more than 5,000 petition signatures were invalid.

This morning, attorneys repping the city and those trying to overturn the election argued over the question of jurisdiction: De la Garza argued, for instance, that the election should have taken place only in the "historically dry" parts of the city -- Preston Hollow, for instance, which was dry when it was annexed by the city in 1945. Barbara Rosenberg, an assistant city attorney, said the election was held properly -- citywide. "There was no violation of election code," she said.

The hearing could stretch out quite a while -- not only does the judge have to rule on jurisdictional issues, but there are others related to discovery and whether or not Keep the Dollars in Dallas (which, under the moniker Progress Dallas, gathered the petitions in the first place) can intervene. And it's unclear whether the judge will address the anti side's motion asking for a halt to the permitting process while the legal matter drags on. One city attorney said he didn't think it would come up today -- because, when the parties were laying out their respective to-do lists in front of the judge this morning, the request for injunctive relief never even came up.

Updates forthcoming. I need a drink.

Update at 3:38 p.m.: Intern Jesse reports back: Permitting will continue. He says the judge refused to rule on the plaintiffs' request, due in large part to the fact the court doesn't have jurisdiction to grant their motion to halt the permitting till this case goes to trial. Another hearing has been set for January 31.

As for Watkins's remarks concerning "registered voter" and "qualified voter," she says she used them "interchangeably" while counting petition signatures. The planitiffs' attorneys insist they are not the same thing, and insist that alone calls into question an election they say should never have been held in the first place.

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