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Coburn loses suit against city of Groves

GROVES — A judge has ruled in favor of the city of Groves in a dispute over the validity of signatures on a petition to recall Cross Coburn.

Retired Judge Buddy Hahn from the 260th District Court in Orange County was the visiting judge in the proceedings that took place last week.

“We believe the judge ruled correctly in dismissing the lawsuit,” Frank Calvert of Calvert Eaves Clarke & Stelly LLP, who represented the city, said of the summary judgment.

Coburn’s attorney Jill Pierce was disappointed in the ruling. Her argument was that there was evidence showing the city clerk, Kim Lowery, was aware of fraud/forged signatures, saying it doesn’t take a handwriting expert to see it.

Pierce’s other argument, she said, is that the city clerk did not know election law, citing an example of a caregiver who signed for a client, which is illegal, as well as a person signing for their spouse.

“That led to the argument that you can’t be deliberately ignorant and ignore evidence of fraud,” Pierce said.

As for what comes next, that’s in limbo for now.

“We are considering our options, one of which is the Ninth Court of Appeals in Beaumont,” she said.

But herein lies a problem — Coburn’s former Ward 1 seat will come up for election in November, and if an appeal is filed and goes into next year the issue will be mute. There is a provision under the Texas Election Law for an expedited appeal but there is still the expiration of the seat lingering.

There are also still some issues with people who say their name was forged on the petition. One woman whom Pierce did not name said her signature was on a page distributed by Councilman Kyle Hollier. The woman has reportedly filed an affidavit stating the signature was forged, and Coburn is going to file an election code violation against Hollier with the Texas Secretary of State.

“I am disappointed with the judge’s ruling,” she said. “But like I told Cross, sometimes when you stand up to a bully you walk away a little bloody and bruised, but at least you stood up to the bully.”

The openly gay Coburn, who was 18 when elected, came under fire after nude photos of him that he shared with a person he met on Grindr, a dating website, were sent to City Hall and to local news media anonymously, asking if this was proper behavior for a city councilman. He believes he was “catfished” — or lured by a person using a fake identity. The photos were not published on the Internet, only between Coburn and the person he met through the dating app.

There was a meeting between Coburn and his attorney, a representative of the city’s human resources office, the mayor and police in which it was deemed that Coburn had done nothing illegal.

Longtime mayor Brad Bailey said at that time Coburn’s actions were unbecoming of a public official, regardless of age.

Groves resident William Lane Howlett came forward with a petition to recall Coburn from his seat. The wife of the mayor, wife of a councilman and a councilman also helped distribute the petition for signatures.

Coburn was then defeated at the polls and lost his seat.