Attorney says gay Dallas man will take his battle for a divorce to the Texas Supreme Court

‘J.B.’

A court’s decision last year to deny a divorce to a gay Dallas couple is being appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.

Attorney James “Jody” Scheske confirmed Wednesday that his client, J.B., plans to appeal the August decision by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that gay couples can’t divorce in Texas because the state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

J.B. and his husband, H.B., were married in 2006 in Massachusetts before moving to Dallas. After they filed for a divorce in Dallas County, District Judge Tena Callahan ruled in October 2009 that she had jurisdiction to hear the case, calling Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott promptly intervened and appealed to the 5th District court, which overturned Callahan’s decision.

“We respectfullly disagree fundamentally with the Court of Appeals ruling that denies equal acess to divorce,” said Scheske, of Akin Gump Straus Hauer & Feld in Austin. “Thus we’ve decided to request that the Texas Supreme Court review the case.”

Scheske said his petition for review has not yet been filed and he’s requesting an extension of the deadline until February. He said once the petition is filed, the Supreme Court will decide whether to hear the case. Scheske acknowledged that the high court is considered very conservative, but he remains optimistic.

“In my business, you always believe that justice can prevail, and the justices on our Supreme Court, just like every other judge and lawyer, are bound to apply the law equally to everybody,” Scheske said. “I know people are cynical about that, but that’s actually the way our system works.”

Scheske recently scored a victory in another gay divorce case in Austin, where an appeals court ruled that Abbott could not intervene after a district judge granted a divorce to a lesbian couple. However, Scheske said the Austin ruling was based on procedural grounds and has no impact on the Dallas case.

—  John Wright

Trial delayed another 4 months in gay Dallas man’s 2008 murder, dismemberment

Seth Winder

Last week we told you the trial of Seth Winder, who’s charged with first-degree murder in the September 2008 dismemberment of gay Dallas resident Richard Hernandez — was scheduled to go forward this month, on Jan. 24.

We also told you that the Denton County District Attorney’s Office, which is handling the case, was a little skeptical about the trial date because jail records showed that Winder’s defense attorney, Derek Adame, hadn’t visited his client recently.

Well, according to Denton County court records, the trial has now been pushed back until May 23. That’s a delay of four additional months. If Winder’s trial goes forward on May 24, it will have been more than 2 ½ years since Hernandez’s murder. But at this point, we’d say that’s a pretty big “if.”

Neither prosecutors nor Adame could immediately be reached for comment.

—  John Wright

Danny Sikora

One gay Dallas man helps bring the 75-year-old bakery that has been a family’s favorite into the digital age

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

DIGITAL DELIGHTS  |  Danny Sikora went from business manager for his father’s medical practice to marketing consultant for Aston’s Bakery. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)
DIGITAL DELIGHTS | Danny Sikora went from business manager for his father’s medical practice to marketing consultant for Aston’s Bakery. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Aston’s Bakery on Lovers Lane is a third-generation family business.

Danny Sikora said Aston’s baked his parents’ wedding cake and that family tradition was to have an Aston’s seven-layer cake for each family member’s birthday.

Sikora said that earlier this year, Aston’s approached him to work with them.

“They needed help getting the bakery on track,” Sikora said. “My role has turned into development.”

Until his dad died last year, Sikora managed his father’s medical practice. He said that he’s still getting requests for records from patients for a variety of reasons. Some just have new doctors but others need to prove to insurance companies that they are not covering pre-existing conditions.
But as that demand on his time has been slowing down, Sikora was looking to reinvent himself. The medical practice was a family business and he was not looking to go to work for another doctor.

He’s been in business for himself before with a wholesale business, and he had a florist shop, with locations in NorthPark Center and on Henderson Street.

But with the economic downturn, Sikora decided the time to open another new business wasn’t right.

Aston’s Bakery has been around since 1934. Its first location was on Lemmon Avenue near Douglas Avenue. Then the bakery moved to Preston Center where it remained for 50 years.

For the past seven years Aston’s has been on Lovers Lane.

Sikora said one problem the bakery had was the lack of a mailing list. After seven years, former customers are still just finding them.
“All orders are still taken with paper and pencil,” Sikoa said.

Now, he encourages the bakery to also get e-mail addresses, and Sikora markets Aston’s on Facebook and texts special offers like two-for-one clearance on Saturday afternoons.

A recent promotion on GroupOn brought in 480 orders. That included more than 100 new customers.

“That was 17,000 petit fours,” Sikora said.

Most of the bakery’s business is special order.

“This is slow food,” Sikora said. “We’re using 75-year-old family recipes.”

Aston’s gets more orders for its champagne cake than for anything else.

Sikora described it as a chiffon cake with a hint of orange and champagne whipped cream between the layers, all covered with shaved white chocolate.
While the classics remain unchanged since Aston’s first began baking in Oak Lawn, Sikora has encouraged the bakery to update some of its styles for the cakes, cupcakes, cookies and bread on display for sale in the store.

“We’ve added new products,” Sikora said, describing a cream cheese-maple-bacon frosting-covered carrot cake cupcake that Aston’s is currently experimenting with.

Sikora said the bakery’s been around so long that the family just thought everyone knew about them. Until Sikora began marketing the company this year, Aston’s didn’t even have a website.

But while social networking has worked well in bringing in new customers, Sikora is not above marketing the old-fashioned way, too. He’s walked up and down the carpool lanes at Highland Park schools handing out coupons.

While Sikora said everything at Aston’s is baked with whole ingredients — no preservatives, no mixes, nothing artificial — he’s experimenting with putting in a few products that meet those standards but are baked elsewhere. He recently talked to Mark Shekter about adding Ruthie’s Rugaluch for the holidays.

Aston Bakery, 4342 Lovers Lane. 214-368-6425.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

Motion for rehearing filed in Texas gay divorce case

Attorneys for plaintiff ask that full 5th District appeals court rehear case after 3-judge panel overturned trial court ruling granting divorce

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Attorneys for a gay Dallas man who’s seeking a divorce from his husband filed a motion this week requesting a re-hearing of the case by the full 5th District Court of Appeals.

An all-Republican, three-judge panel of the Dallas appeals court ruled Aug. 31 that the man, identified in court documents as J.B., cannot obtain a divorce in Texas because the state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

J.B. and his attorneys had the option of dropping the matter, appealing the decision to the Texas Supreme Court, or requesting a re-hearing by the 13-justice 5th District Court en banc. They filed their motion seeking the rehearing on Wednesday, Sept. 15.

“We believe adequate grounds exist for the entire court of appeals to reconsider the panel’s opinion, and we hope the entire Dallas court of appeals will do that,” said James J. “Jody” Scheske of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the Austin firm representing J.B.

Scheske said for the request to be granted, a majority of the 13 justices would have to agree to rehear the case.

Depending on the outcome, Scheske said he’s unsure whether they’ll appeal the decision to the Texas Supreme Court.

“We’re taking it one step at a time,” Scheske said. “We’re hopeful the entire court of appeals will issue an opinion we can live with, in which case further appeal won’t be necessary.”

J.B. and his partner, H.B., were married in Massachusetts in 2006. After they moved to Dallas, J.B. filed for a divorce in 2008.

In October 2009, Democratic District Judge Tena Callahan ruled she had jurisdiction to hear J.B.’s divorce petition, saying Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.
Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott appealed Callahan’s decision, and the appeals court panel ruled in Abbott’s favor.

For a full copy of the motion seeking the rehearing, go to http://tinyurl.com/3x6u4mt.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

BREAKING: Re-hearing sought in gay divorce

Attorneys for a gay Dallas man who’s seeking a divorce from his husband have filed a motion requesting a re-hearing of the case by the full 5th District Court of Appeals.

An all-Republican, three-judge panel of the Dallas appeals court ruled in August that the man, identified in court documents as J.B., cannot obtain a divorce in Texas because the state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

J.B. and his attorneys had the option of dropping the matter, appealing the decision to the Texas Supreme Court, or requesting a re-hearing by the 13-justice 5th District Court en banc.

“We believe adequate grounds exist for the entire Court of Appeals to reconsider the panel’s opinion, and we hope the entire Dallas court of appeals will do that,” said attorney James J. “Jody” Scheske of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the Austin firm representing J.B.

Scheske said for the request to be granted, a majority of the 13 justices would have to agree to rehear the case. There is no timeframe for the court to rule on the request, he said. Depending on the outcome, Scheske said he’s unsure whether his client will appeal the decision to the Texas Supreme Court.

“We’re taking it one step at a time,” Scheske said. “We’re hopeful the entire court of appeals will issue an opinion we can live with, in which case further appeal won’t be necessary.”

J.B. and his partner, H.B., were married in Massachusetts in 2006. After they moved to Dallas, J.B. filed for a divorce in 2008.

In October of last year, Democratic District Judge Tena Callahan ruled she had jurisdiction to hear J.B.’s divorce petition, saying Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott appealed Callahan’s decision, and the appeals court ruled on Aug. 31 in Abbott’s favor.

To read the full text of the motion seeking a re-hearing, go here.

—  John Wright

Navy ensign from East Texas fights anti-gay harassment by superiors

No charges in recent death threat against Steve Crowston, who filed complaint after receiving ‘Romo’s bitch’ call sign from squadron

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

COWBOYS FAN  |  Dallas Cowboys fan and Navy Ensign Steve Crowston is fighting what he says has been anti-gay harassment by his colleagues and commanders. Crowston, who won’t discuss his sexual orientation, was given the call sign “Romo’s Bitch” by those in his squadron. It was one of several call signs suggested by his colleagues. Others included “Fagmeister” and “Gay Boy.”
COWBOYS FAN | Dallas Cowboys fan and Navy Ensign Steve Crowston is fighting what he says has been anti-gay harassment by his colleagues and commanders. Crowston, who won’t discuss his sexual orientation, was given the call sign “Romo’s Bitch” by those in his squadron. It was one of several call signs suggested by his colleagues. Others included “Fagmeister” and “Gay Boy.”

Navy Ensign Steve Crowston, the East Texas native who’s made headlines of late with claims of anti-gay harassment by his military superiors, says he learned this week that federal authorities don’t plan to file charges against a Dallas man who made a possible death threat against him on the Internet in August.

Crowston, 36, said the Navy Criminal Investigative Service informed him Tuesday, Sept. 7 that federal authorities in Texas don’t plan to pursue the case. The unidentified Dallas-based suspect reportedly made the threat in response to media coverage of Crowston’s harassment allegations, which are currently being investigated by the Navy Inspector General.

The suspect, using the name “Flugelman,” posted a photo of a naked man tied to a “Tree of Woe” on a Naval Aviation-themed website called AirWarriors.com. The caption read, “Send Fagmiester back to the Goatlocker. We’ll take care of him/her/it.”

The “Tree of Woe” is an apparent reference to a tree the lead character was to be crucified on in the film “Conan the Barbarian;” “goatlocker” refers to the fraternity of Navy chiefs; and “Fagmeister” was among the anti-gay call signs members of Crowston’s squadron recommended for him during a meeting in August 2009, prompting the harassment allegations.

“The guy obviously has issues with people who are perceived to be gay,” Crowston said of the man who made the threat. “My big concern was the safety of my family back there [in Texas].”

Crowston said he plans to take up the matter with the office of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas didn’t return a phone call seeking comment about the investigation into the threat.

Crowston, who refuses to disclose his sexual orientation, told Dallas Voice he grew up in East Texas and lived in Mesquite for a few years before joining the Navy in the mid-1990s. Currently based in Virginia Beach, Va., Crowston plans to return to Dallas when he retires from the military in four years.

Crowston is an avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys, which led to his being given the call sign “Romo’s bitch” in a vote by members of Strike Fighter Squadron 136 last year.

But Crowston said “Romo’s bitch” isn’t what bothered him; it was the other call signs that had been recommended and written on a white board in the meeting room, which included “Gay Boy,” “Fagmeister” and “Cowgirl.”

Those who voted on Crowston’s call sign included the squadron’s commanding and executive officers.

Crowston’s case has drawn attention in particular to the problem of offensive and inappropriate call signs, which can be used in official military correspondence and tend to follow someone throughout their career.

Crowston, who’d recently lost a friend to suicide following harassment in the Navy, took his concerns about the call sign incident to his superiors.

He said they retaliated by launching investigations of him and giving him his worst performance review in 16 years in the Navy. He said he endured months of harassment before filing a complaint in February.

The Naval Inspector General’s Office initially found Crowston’s complaint to be unsubstantiated. But Crowston has taken his fight to the Pentagon and Congress, alleging that the investigator was biased because she knew one of the commanding officers he’d named.

Last month, the Navy Inspector General announced it was reopening the case and launching an investigation into how it was initially handled.

“What I’m doing is I’m standing up for my rights, and I’m hoping it will make a difference for myself and others in the military,” Crowston said.

He pointed to the case of Army infantryman Barry Winchell, who was murdered by a fellow soldier in 1999 pursuant to anti-gay harassment.

“The law says ‘don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t harass and don’t pursue,’” Crowston said. “Why is it that we have senior leadership in the Navy still to this day violating the ‘don’t harass’ policy?”

Servicemembers who are gay or perceived to be gay usually don’t report harassment because they fear being outed under DADT, Crowston said.

Aaron Tax, legal director for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, agreed.

“It’s very difficult under ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ to safely report harassment and not run afoul of the law, and I think a case like this highlights that,” said Tax, adding that SLDN has been monitoring Crowston’s case.

SLDN is a group dedicated to ending discrimination and harassment against military personnel affected by DADT.

Tax said legislation to repeal DADT originally included a provision that would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in the military.

But this provision isn’t contained in the version that passed the House earlier this year, which is expected to be voted on by the Senate later this month.

“Even with repeal of ‘don’t ask don’t tell,’ there will still be a need for strong leadership and comprehensive training to make sure people are not harassed on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation,” Tax said. “What we’re hoping is that President Obama will step up to the plate, and should we get repeal passed by Congress this year, that he will step up to the plate and sign an executive order that once and for all eliminates discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the military.”

Crowston, meanwhile, is awaiting the outcome of the Inspector General’s investigation and plans to continue his battle.

“I’m not going to back down,” he said. “I’m concerned about my safety of course, but I’m going to live my life. To be an activist you’ve got to take a stand. This isn’t about just me.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 10, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

Losing his home — and his health

Dallas man with HIV says housing stability helped him stay healthy. But late HOPWA payments led to his eviction, and a rising viral load

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

FIGHTING FOR HEALTH AND HOUSING | Since he received notice that he was being evicted because HOPWA payments covering his rent were late, Dustin Mattlage’s CD4 count has dropped 200 points. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

“Housing stability has kept me out of the hospital,” said Dustin Mattlage, who has lived with HIV for 17 years.

But now, problems with the federal program that has helped give him stable housing is having a negative impact on his health.

In 2005, Mattlage began receiving assistance through Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS, a federal program better known as HOPWA. The program he relies on to keep a roof over his head is administered by the city, and Dallas consistently pays landlords late.

Mattlage said a recent 200-point drop in his CD4 count was caused by the stress of a current eviction demonstrates the importance of stable housing for people living with AIDS.

Don Maison, president and CEO of AIDS Services Dallas, agrees.

“I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen who have been told by their doctors they had weeks to live,” Maison said. “One guy moved into Ewing on May 1, 1996. He is thriving.”

People living with AIDS in stable housing have an 80 percent reduction in mortality, Maison said one study showed. Another study indicated the death rate is seven to nine times higher among people with AIDS who are homeless.

HOPWA supports a number of programs, including acquisition and rehabilitation of housing units, that have benefited ASD.

Other programs provide rental assistance and prevent homelessness, targeting individuals who are not in housing like ASD or Villages at Samaritan House in Fort Worth. In Dallas, the city and county run two of those programs.

The city provides temporary, emergency assistance. A person with HIV can apply for that help and Dallas will pay rent for up to five months a year. Fort Worth runs a similar program.

A county program that receives HOPWA funding provides permanent assistance.

According to a HUD study released earlier this year, renting apartments is cheaper than placing people in homeless shelters, even before the cost of extra services such as more emergency room visits is added.

Mattlage said that if he were homeless, he’d have no way to refrigerate the medication that has kept him out of Parkland.

With a stable home, Mattlage said, rather than worrying about where he was going to spend the night, he re-entered the workforce.

Before moving into the Bailiwick, an apartment complex in Oak Lawn, Mattlage made sure the complex accepted HOPWA payments without late fees. He lost a previous apartment because even though HOPWA emergency funds covered his rent when he was sick, late charges he couldn’t cover mounted to more than $1,000.

While payments from the city-managed program are reliable, they are also consistently late.

To receive payments from the city, a landlord signs up as a vendor on the City Hall website. They also sign a payment agreement and check off “Yes, I am willing to wait for payment. (By checking this box, I agree to wait 6-8 weeks for payment to be processed. I also agree that late charges will cease upon the date of this agreement).”

Earlier this year, Kevin Forhan purchased the Bailiwick.

Forhan said he could not comment for the story because of ongoing litigation with Mattlage but would talk to Dallas Voice after that pending case is resolved.

Unrelated to Mattlage, he made one comment about the program.

“I think the bureaucracy makes it difficult for a small business to deal with it,” he said.

The pending litigation he referred to began in May.

On May 19, Mattlage received a notice of rental arrears. On June 16, he was served with an eviction notice with a June 21 court date.

While presiding Justice of the Peace Luis Sepulveda sympathized with Mattlage, he found no grounds for refusing the eviction. Mattlage did receive a stay, however, by filing an immediate appeal on grounds of housing discrimination based on disability. HUD referred the complaint to the city’s Fair Housing Office.

The court date for the appeal was July 22. Although he expected to lose, that delay gave Mattlage a month, rather than five business days, to find a new place to live and move.

He is now on permanent housing assistance in the HOPWA program managed by the county. Once Mattlage found his new apartment, the county scheduled an inspection to make sure the new apartment meets certain minimum standards and safety requirements. They also checked that the apartment is the size allowed and not a larger apartment that the client could sublet to a roommate for profit.

As expected, Mattlage lost his appeal on June 22, but was given an extra week for the county to approve the new residence and move.

Mattlage said receiving HOPWA emergency assistance is easy: To get temporary help from the city, bring a rental arrears notice, a copy of the lease and a current letter of diagnosis. “They want to know you’re currently getting treatment,” he said.

Mattlage said he found a lot of AIDS-related discrimination in housing in Oak Lawn.

While calling apartment complexes, he asked if they accepted Section 8 housing vouchers, a HUD program that subsidizes shelter for low-income individuals and families.
If they said they would, he asked if they accepted HOPWA. Most of those Oak Lawn properties that took Section 8 said they would not accept HOPWA.

Mattlage praised the HOPWA programs and said the city emergency help was easy to access. Getting an appointment with the county took more persistence. But both require some legwork.

“You have to be proactive,” he said.

City officials did not return calls seeking comment.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 23, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas