Araguz booking raises questions about Harris County jail’s treatment of transgender inmates

Judge Vanessa Valasquez

Judge Vanessa Valasquez

According to the Houston Chronicle, Nikki Araguz has been booked into the Harris County Jain after arriving 40 minutes late for a scheduled court appearance on Friday. The court date was to allow Araguz to plead guilty to charges that she stole a watch from an acquaintance last year. Under the proposed plea bargain Araguz would have paid $2,600 in restitution and served 15 days in county jail. State District Judge Vanessa Velasquez, a Republican first appointed to the bench by Gov. Rick Perry, responded to Araguz’ apologies for her tardiness with “It’s too late for sorry,” ordering bailiffs to escort her to a hold cell next to the courtroom.

Araguz is the widow of firefighter Capt. Thomas Araguz who died in the line of duty last year. Capt. Araguz’s ex-wife and mother have sued to claim the portion of his survivor’s benefits reserved for the spouses of slain firefighters, claiming that since Nikki Araguz was identified as male at birth the marriage was invalid under Texas’ laws prohibiting the recognition of same-sex marriage. Mrs. Araguz’s birth certificate identifies her as female, as does her state issued identification.

Araguz’s booking has raised questions about the Harris County’s treatment of transgender detainees. The Sheriff Department’s Public Information Inquiry System listed Araguz using her male birth name on Friday. They have since removed the name from the site’s searchable database but have retained the record, listing it under the department’s “special person number” (SPN) filing system. The SPN record includes Araguz’s birth name. The Sheriff’s office has not returned calls from Houstini asking why the department is not using Araguz’s legal name and if this is common practice.

According to a friend who has visited Araguz at the jail her identity bracelet correctly identifies her gender as “F” – but reflects Araguz’s birth name, not her legal name. Araguz is segregated from the general jail population, but can receive visitors during regular visiting hours.

Araguz will remain in the Harris County Jail until Jan 25 when she is scheduled to appear again before Judge Velasquez.

—  admin

Gay divorce cases before Texas Supreme Court

Panel requests briefs, indicating it may rule on whether couples married elsewhere can divorce here

CLICK HERE TO READ BRIEFS FROM THE DALLAS GAY DIVORCE CASE

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com
Nearly three years after the gay Dallas resident known as J.B. filed an uncontested petition for a divorce from his husband, H.B., the couple’s matrimonial fate rests in the hands of the state’s highest court.

The Texas Supreme Court recently requested briefs from both sides as justices decide if they’ll review the issue of whether same-sex couples legally married elsewhere can divorce in Texas.

J.B. and H.B. were married in Massachusetts in 2006 before moving to Dallas. After J.B. filed his petition for divorce in January 2009, Democratic State District Judge Tena Callahan of Dallas ruled in October of that year that she had jurisdiction to hear the case — and in doing so declared Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott immediately intervened and appealed Callahan’s decision, which the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas overturned last year, ruling that Texas judges cannot grant same-sex divorces because the state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

In February, J.B.’s attorneys at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld filed their petition for review to the Texas Supreme Court.

“They’re in limbo,” Akin Gump’s Jody Scheske said of J.B. and H.B. “They’re still married. They don’t want to be married. Texas can’t prevent them from getting married because they’re already married. All they want is the equal right to divorce that should be available to everybody.”

J.B. and H.B.’s is one of two same-sex divorce cases currently pending before the Texas Supreme Court. The panel has also requested briefs in State of Texas v. Angelique Naylor and Sabrina Daly.

In the Naylor case, the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin upheld a Travis County district court’s decision to grant a divorce to Naylor and Daly, a lesbian couple. The appeals court ruled that Abbott intervened in the case too late, but the AG’s office has appealed the decision to the Texas Supreme Court.

Akin Gump is also representing Naylor and Daly. Scheske said the high court’s decision to request “briefs on the merits” in the two cases is part of its decision-making process about whether to review them.

“It’s actually not an indicator that they plan to take the case necessarily, but if they don’t request briefs on the merits, they will not take the case,” he said. “They only take a very small percentage of the cases that are actually petitioned.”

Scheske said he hopes the high court will accept J.B.’s case and decline the AG’s petition in Naylor. He said it’s also possible the court will consolidate the two cases. There is no timeframe for the Supreme Court to decide whether to review the cases, and at this point it’s unlikely oral arguments would be heard anytime before the spring.

“They can take as long as they want to or as short as they want to,” Scheske said. “So now we hurry up and wait.”
Asked whether he’d appeal an unfavorable ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, Scheske said he is unsure. “If we lost the cases at the

Texas Supreme Court, that would be the next and final step, but I haven’t discussed that with either client, just because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.

A spokesman for the AG’s office declined to comment on the cases beyond the briefs it has already filed.

Ken Upton, a Dallas-based senior staff attorney at the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, said he believes the Texas Supreme Court will take the cases.

“I think this an awful lot for them to read not to take it,” Upton said of the briefs the court has requested. “They’re looking at what happened in Austin and what happened in Dallas, and I suspect they want to have a uniform result. Let everybody guess what that will be, but I’m not terribly optimistic.”

Upton said he thinks it’s unlikely the U.S. Supreme Court would hear an appeal, meaning the impact of the cases will be limited to Texas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

What’s Brewing: Daniel Hernandez, Fort Worth Episcopal diocese; marriage battles intensify

1. In a victory for LGBT-affirming Episcopalians, a conservative Fort Worth group that left the church over its acceptance of gays has been ordered to surrender the property it tried to steal from the six-county diocese. A state district judge on Friday ordered the group to turn over the property — which includes 55 parishes and missions as well as several schools — within 60 days. The group says it plans to appeal the decision, but hopefully this ruling will mean schools like St. Vincent’s can no longer discriminate against 4-year-olds like Olivia Harrison (above) who happen to have lesbian parents.

2. Daniel Hernandez Jr., the gay intern credited with saving the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, will sit next to first lady Michelle Obama during Tuesday’s State of the Union address. Tuesday also happens to be Hernandez’s 21st birthday.

3. Battles over same-sex marriage are intensifying in Maryland, Wyoming and Iowa.

—  John Wright

Wyo. lawmakers say gay divorce case highlights need to define marriage

BEN NEARY  |  Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Some top Wyoming lawmakers said Friday, Jan. 14 that a same-sex divorce case pending in the state Supreme Court underscores the need to clarify what constitutes legal marriage in the state.

District Judge Keith Kautz of Niobrara County in November dismissed a case in which two women who were married in Canada in 2008 were seeking a divorce in Wyoming. Kautz said state law didn’t give him jurisdiction over ending the marriage. One of the women appealed.

Senate President Jim Anderson, R-Glenrock, and House Speaker Ed Buchanan, R-Torrington, both said in interviews Friday that the Niobrara County case shows that the Legislature needs to clarify state law. Attempts to reach lawyers representing the divorcing couple were unsuccessful.

One provision of Wyoming law says marriage can exist only between one man and one woman. But another provision says the state will recognize valid marriages performed elsewhere.

Currently, performing a same-sex marriage is legal in only a handful of states, mostly in the Northeast.

A proposal pending in the Wyoming Senate would let voters decide whether to amend the state constitution to specify that the state would recognize only marriages between a man and a woman. The Senate on Friday sent the measure, Senate Joint Resolution 5, to the Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, a lesbian, has pushed for increased rights for gays and lesbians in the state. She introduced a competing bill Friday, House Bill 143, that would recognize same-sex marriages.

Another House bill would ban same-sex marriages and specify that Wyoming courts wouldn’t have jurisdiction over same-sex marriages.

The House last year voted down a bill that would have allowed voters to decide whether to amend the state constitution to deny recognition of same-sex marriages.

“So often, what we hear from the media and others is that this is a waste of time, and this is not necessary,” Anderson said of addressing the same-sex marriage issue. “I think it deserves a certain amount of time because I think the people of Wyoming want this issue debated. And for the most part, I think the people of Wyoming want an opportunity to vote on that issue.”

Buchanan said the existing state statutes are in conflict.

“Too bad this wasn’t done a year ago,” Buchanan said, adding that would have given the Supreme Court clear direction on how to handle the divorce case.

Buchanan said he believes some state lawmakers want to forbid same-sex marriages in Wyoming because they disagree with the practice.

“I think folks want to protect the traditional notion of what marriage is, and that is a relationship between a man and a woman,” Buchanan said. “But also, they just want this issue to be decided one way or another. So I think it’s just kind of twofold.”

Sen. Curt Meier, R-La Grange, is the main sponsor of the joint resolution that would put the question of whether to deny recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere before Wyoming voters. He said Friday that the pending same-sex divorce case isn’t driving his bill.

“I’m doing this because over the last several years there have been several polls, and the voters of the state of Wyoming have expressed a sincere interest that that’s an issue that they want to vote on, and this will give them an opportunity to do that,” Meier said.

—  John Wright

If Prop 8 is really unconstitutional, you should totally be able to get a gay divorce in Texas

Pete Schulte, left, and James J. Scheske are like a gay divorce dream team.

Attorneys for a gay Dallas couple that’s seeking a divorce are citing the recent Prop 8 ruling out of California — in which a federal judge declared the state’s marriage ban unconstitutional — to bolster their case.

James J. Scheske of Akin Gump Straus Hauer & Feld, one of the attorneys representing the gay couple, filed a letter brief Aug. 18 with Dallas’ 5th District Court of Appeals. The brief cites not only the Prop 8 ruling, but also two July rulings from Massachusetts in which a federal court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

“Since this case was submitted, there have been significant developments in the body of law relating to the constitutional infirmity of efforts to deprive lawfully-married same-sex couples of the same benefits, responsibilities, and protections afforded all other married couples,” Scheske wrote in the brief. “This court should take heed of these decisions, which vindicate the trial court’s holding in this case that laws depriving lawfully-married same-sex couples of the right to obtain a divorce are unconstitutional.”

Scheske represents J.B. and H.B., who married in Massachusetts and are seeking a divorce in Texas.

Democratic State District Judge Tena Callahan ruled last October that J.B. and H.B. can get divorced in Texas. But Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott appealed Callahan’s decision, arguing that Texas cannot grant the divorce because the state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

A three-member panel of the state appeals court heard oral arguments in the case in April. There is no deadline for the justices to rule.

Click on the link to read the full brief: J.B.’s Letter Brief-r

—  John Wright