Attorney General’s office warns of scam following leak of state workers’ personal information

This isn’t a specifically LGBT news item, but I know for a fact that there are tons of  teachers and other state workers — retired and otherwise — who are LGBT, so here you go:

Texas AG Greg Abbott

State Attorney General Greg Abbott today warned that retired and current state workers whose personal information was recently “inadvertently stored on a publicly accessible website” by the Texas Comptroller’s Office are apparently now being targeted by scammers out to steal identities.

Abbott’s press release said that an employee of the Health and Human Services Commission has reported receiving a telephone call from someone who identified himself as “Mike” with the Employees Retirement System of Texas (ERS) and said he was calling to confirm the last four digits of the employee’s Social Security number. (Just so you know, having the last four digits of your SSN lets someone who knows what they are doing to access all sorts of personal information about you.)

The employee who reported the call refused to give the caller their SSN, and the caller finally hung up with the words, “Good luck to you.”

—  admin

What’s Brewing: Dad says gay teen’s death not suicide; ex-cop gets jail in rape of transsexual

Lance Lundsten

1. Gay Minnesota teen Lance Lundsten was laid to rest Tuesday night, but questions remain about what caused his death. Some news reports have suggested that Lundsten, 18, took his own life in response to anti-gay bullying at school. However, Lundsten’s father maintains that he died from coronary edema, a condition caused by an enlarged heart. Autopsy results will take several weeks.

2. A former San Antonio police officer accused of raping a transsexual prostitute was sentenced to one year in jail on Tuesday. The former officer, Craig Nash, pleaded guilty to official oppression after prosecutors agreed in exchange not to charge him with sexual assault by a police officer, which carries a life sentence. Prosecutors also agreed not to pursue an allegation by a man who said Nash raped him a few years earlier.

3. A federal appeals court in Louisiana today will hear a case involving two gay dads who simply want both of their names listed on their adopted child’s birth certificate. A federal district judge and a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have already ruled in the gay couple’s favor, but the bigoted state attorney general is appealing the decision. The couple is represented by Lambda Legal’s Ken Upton of Dallas, who warns of a “gaping loophole” in the doctrine of full faith and credit if the decision is overturned: “An exception that permits states arbitrarily to ignore legal parent-child relationships as families travel throughout the United States would create unprecedented chaos and harm.”

—  John Wright

Assistant AG fired for harassing gay Mich. student

TIM MARTIN | Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. — An assistant state attorney general accused of harassing the gay student assembly president at the University of Michigan was fired Monday, Nov. 8.

Andrew Shirvell, 30, went on leave about a month ago after national criticism erupted over a blog he wrote characterizing student leader Chris Armstrong as a “racist” and a “liar” who promoted a “radical homosexual agenda.”

Shirvell’s attorney has said his actions were constitutionally protected as free speech. Shirvell had attended the first day of a disciplinary hearing Friday and expected that hearing to continue later this week, but then was called in and fired.

Attorney General Mike Cox said the firing came after a state investigation revealed that Shirvell “repeatedly violated office policies, engaged in borderline stalking behavior and inappropriately used state resources.”

“To be clear, I refuse to fire anyone for exercising their First Amendment rights, regardless of how popular or unpopular their positions might be,” Cox said in a statement.

But he said Shirvell’s conduct went beyond free speech when he showed up three separate times outside Armstrong’s Ann Arbor home, including once at 1:30 a.m.

“That incident is especially telling because it clearly was about harassing Mr. Armstrong, not engaging in free speech,” Cox said.

Armstrong, 21, has accused Shirvell of videotaping a late-night party at his off-campus house, showing up at campus appearances with a sign that read “racist” and “liar,” and lambasting him on his blog. Armstrong had filed for a personal protection order against Shirvell but withdrew that request late last month.

His lawyer applauded the decision and said the state should go further and revoke Shirvell’s law license.

“This clearly is the correct decision by the attorney general’s office,” Deborah L. Gordon said in a statement. “The next step must be a complete retraction of all the malicious lies and fabrications by Mr. Shirvell, and a public apology to Mr. Armstrong, his family and others Mr. Shirvell has slandered.”

Shirvell’s lawyer, Philip Thomas, said his client has not yet decided if he will appeal the decision to the Michigan Civil Service Commission.

“It was very obvious something political had occurred, and I couldn’t imagine what that would be,” Thomas said.

Cox said the investigation found that Shirvell harassed Armstrong’s friends as they were socializing in Ann Arbor and made numerous calls to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office while Armstrong was working there as an intern “in an attempt to slander Armstrong — and ultimately attempting to cause Pelosi to fire Armstrong,” Cox said. He added that Shirvell attempted to “out” Armstrong’s friends as being homosexual, even though several weren’t gay.

The investigation revealed that while at work during normal business hours, Shirvell called Pelosi’s office and posted attacks on Armstrong on the Internet. He also lied to investigating assistant attorneys general on several occasions during Friday’s disciplinary hearing, Cox said.

“The cumulative effects of his use of state resources, harassing conduct that is not protected by the First Amendment and his lies during the disciplinary conference all demonstrate adequate evidence of conduct unbecoming a state employee,” Cox said.

Shirvell, one of about 250 lawyers in the attorney general’s office, handled cases in which convictions are appealed in federal court, writing defenses for the state. It was not a management or supervisory position.

The 2002 University of Michigan graduate is allowed on university’s Ann Arbor campus but with restrictions. He’s not allowed to make physical or verbal contact with Armstrong nor can he be in the same place as the student when it’s likely Armstrong will be present.

—  John Wright

California Supreme Court refuses to force Gov. Schwarzenegger to appeal Prop 8 decision

Ruling means case may hinge on whether Yes on 8 has standing

Lisa Keen  | Keen News Service

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday night, Sept. 8 denied a petition from a conservative group seeking to force California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to participate in an appeal of the Proposition 8 case.

The full court issued its decision with a simple two-sentence declaration, denying a petition from the Pacific Justice Institute. The denial came just hours after Schwarzenegger and state Attorney General Jerry Brown submitted letters to the court, explaining that they were not participating in the appeal of Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

In a letter from his attorney, Gov. Schwarzenegger indicated what had been uncertain before — that he had decided not to appeal the Proposition 8 court decision to the 9th Circuit.

The definitive statement from Schwarzenegger — coupled with the state supreme court’s refusal to require state participation in the appeal — means the ability of Proposition 8 proponents to appeal may depend entirely on the legal standing of the Yes on 8 coalition. (There is one remaining possibility: the County Board of Supervisors of Imperial County, California, has asked to serve as an intervenor in the appeal. Because the county issues marriage licenses, it may be able to demonstrate a necessary element of standing — that it is impacted by the district court decision.)

Gov. Schwarzenegger had until Sept. 11 to make a decision and, though his position on marriage equality for gay couples has been changing, his most recent statements seemed to indicate he would not direct the state’s attorney general to appeal the decision from the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

That decision, issued Aug. 4 by Judge Vaughn Walker, found Proposition 8 violates the federal constitutional guarantee to equal protection. The Yes on 8 coalition filed its appeal, and a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit has said it will hear the appeal during the first week of December, along with arguments concerning whether the Yes on 8 coalition has standing to appeal.

Hoping to shore up the legitimacy of that appeal, the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal group, filed an appeal — Beckley v. Schwarzenegger — to the California Supreme Court this week, asking justices to force the governor to instruct the attorney general to join the appeal in the 9th Circuit.

The state supreme court ordered the governor and attorney general to weigh in on this matter Wednesday. And, in a five-page letter Sept. 8, Counsel for the Governor Andrew Stroud told the court, “Although Beckley may disagree with the Governor’s decision not to file a notice of appeal [in the Proposition 8 case in federal court], it was the Governor’s decision to make.”

A letter from Attorney General Jerry Brown’s deputy, Tamar Pachter, reiterated that Brown has long opposed Proposition 8 as unconstitutional and that Brown’s decision not to appeal the federal court decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger “is an ordinary and sound exercise of the discretion secured by law to his office.”

Pachter says the Pacific Justice Institute’s petition is based on its “fears that the the federal courts will rule that [Yes on 8 proponents] lack standing to pursue their appeal …”

“But the Attorney General has no duty to appeal at all, let alone to file an appeal he has determined is legally unjustified, soley to manufacture federal appellate standing in private parties,” wrote Pachter.

Copyright ©2010 Keen News Service. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

—  John Wright

AG Brown, couples urge speedy return to gay marriages

PAUL ELIAS and LISA LEFF  |  Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — The attorneys who successfully sued to strike down California’s same-sex marriage ban have joined state Attorney General Jerry Brown in urging a federal appeals court to quickly allow gay marriages to resume in the state.

Theodore Olson and David Boies, the high-profile lawyers representing two couples, told the appeals court that same-sex couples are being hurt every day Proposition 8 is enforced and should not be denied their civil rights while the ban’s sponsors pursue an appeal of this month’s decision overturning the 2008 measure that was approved in a referendum.

“Indeed, the only harm at issue here is that suffered by Plaintiffs and other gay and lesbian Californians each day that Proposition 8′s discriminatory and irrational deprivation of their constitutional rights remains in force,” the lawyers argued in a filing late Friday, Aug. 13.

Brown, who is the Democratic nominee for governor, said in a separate filing that there was no reason for the 9th Circuit to grant the emergency stay request because state and local agencies would suffer no harm by being required to sanction same-sex marriages. County clerks across the state already are gearing up to do so next week, he said.

The swiftly drafted legal papers came in response to efforts by same-sex marriage opponents to get the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals to block a lower court judge’s ruling striking down Proposition 8 as unconstitutional from taking effect this week. If the 9th Circuit refuses to intervene, it would clear the way for same-sex couples to marry starting after the close of business Wednesday, Aug. 18.

Protect Marriage, the coalition of religious and conservative groups that sponsored Proposition 8, has appealed U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s Aug. 4 ruling that found the voter-approved law unconstitutional. After Walker said on Thursday, Aug. 12 that he planned to finalize his ruling on Wednesday at 5 p.m., the group’s lawyers asked the 9th Circuit to prevent any gay marriages while the appeal is pending.

They argued the appeals court should grant an emergency stay “to avoid the confusion and irreparable injury that would flow from the creation of a class of purported same-sex marriages.”

Depending on how the 9th Circuit rules, same-sex couples could get married in California as early as next week or they would have to wait while the appeal works its way through the court and potentially the U.S. Supreme Court as well.

Walker, however, has expressed doubts over whether Protect Marriage has the right to challenge his ruling if neither the attorney general nor the governor elect to do so. Both officials refused to defend Proposition 8 in Walker’s court and have since said they see no reason why gay couples should not be able to get married now.

Although he allowed the group to intervene in the trial, the judge said the appellate court would have to make its own determination that same-sex marriage opponents would be injured if gay couples could wed, a claim Walker explicitly dismissed in his decision invalidating Proposition 8.

The ban’s backers addressed the potential for such a roadblock in their emergency stay request, saying California’s strong citizen initiative law permits ballot measure proponents to defend their interests if state officials will not.

“Proponents may directly assert the state’s interest in defending the constitutionality of its laws, an interest that is indisputably sufficient to confer appellate standing,” they said.

Theodore Boutrous, a lawyer with the legal team representing same-sex couples, said that keeping Protect Marriage from moving forward with an appeal was not necessarily the top priority of the plaintiffs.

“We believe that Chief Judge Walker’s ruling last week on the merits provides a powerful record on appeal, and we want the appellate courts to address the merits of Proposition 8,” Boutrous said. “The standing issue that Chief Judge Walker identified provides another potential weapon in our arsenal that will be part of the appellate arguments.”

California voters passed Proposition 8 as a state constitutional amendment in November 2008, five months after the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex unions and an estimated 18,000 same-sex couples already had married.

Five states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa — and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. New York and Maryland recognize those marriages even though same-sex couples can’t wed within their borders. However, the federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, nor do the vast majority of states.

—  John Wright

Texas AG Greg Abbott argues that he can’t be sued for discriminating against gay employees

Greg Abbott

Last November we reported on a lawsuit filed by Vic Gardner of Tyler, who alleges that he was forced out of his job with the state attorney general’s office for being gay.

Jason C.N. Smith of Fort Worth, who’s representing Gardner in his suit against a former supervisor and AG Greg Abbott, reports that the case is set for a hearing in an Austin district court next Tuesday.

Smith said the AG’s office has field a motion seeking to dismiss the case, on grounds that Abbott can’t be sued for damages for discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation.

Although Texas has no statute prohibiting anti-gay job discrimination, courts have held that gay and lesbian government employees are protected by constitutional principles such as privacy and equal protection, Smith said. Still, he said it’s possible that Abbott would appeal the case all the way to the Texas Supreme Court.

“My hope is that the Texas Supreme Court would follow the lead of the U.S. Supreme Court and hold that gays are protected under the constitution,” Smith said. “I think certainly the law is very clear. It’s just a matter of whether they’re going to play politics with the gay community.

“Greg Abbott’s record both as a Supreme Court justice and as Texas attorney general, he’s not one who’s embraced giving everyone equal rights, so it doesn’t surprise me that he doesn’t s think folks who are fired because they’re gay should be able to recover damages,” Smith added.

Garder, who’d worked for the AG’s child support division for about three years, says he resigned after repeatedly being unfairly disciplined. Despite Gardner’s above-average job performance, according to the lawsuit, Gardner’s supervisor had directed him to “not be so out.”

Gardner is seeking reinstatement to a similar position and back pay, as well as a declaration by the AG’s office that he was discriminated against and a pledge not to do so going forward.

A spokesman for Abbott’s office has declined to comment on the case.

—  John Wright