Voters in Groves, Texas, will decide Nov. 6 whether to oust openly gay City Councilman Cross Coburn, after a judge dismissed Coburn’s lawsuit challenging the recall petition against him.
State District Judge Donald Floyd ruled Monday, Oct. 1 that the election will go forward despite Coburn’s allegations that signatures on the petition were forged. Coburn’s attorney, Jill Pierce, said two Groves residents whose names appear on the petition signed sworn affidavits and filed police reports stating that they did not sign it. The two allegedly forged signatures appear on pages circulated by Darla Bailey, the wife of Groves Mayor Brad Bailey.
“[Bailey’s wife] signed under oath at the bottom off the petition that all of the signatures were genuine,” Pierce said. “We now know that they were not all genuine. I believe that she committed perjury.”
Coburn and Pierce say the recall effort is part of an anti-gay campaign led by officials in Groves, a city of 16,000 near Beaumont. Bailey has defended his wife’s role in circulating the petition, and said he feels Coburn engaged in conduct “unbecoming of an elected official.”
“This has been about Cross’ sexual orientation since the very beginning,” Pierce said. “They want Cross out of office because he is gay, even if the petition is based on fraud.”
Groves resident William L. Howlett launched the recall petition after an anonymous mailer sent Coburn’s nude photos from the gay dating app Grindr to City Hall and to local media outlets in March. The city initially rejected the petition due to errors in June, but gave Howlett time to refile it.
Bailey said he is not concerned about the forgeries, because the certified petition contained hundreds of other signatures. The petition reportedly contains 936 signatures, exceeding the minimum of 893 that were required.
“It’s two names,” Bailey told KDFM-6 News. “There were 800, 900 signatures, so it happens.”
Pierce filed the lawsuit Aug. 7 after handwriting experts determined that at least 80 signatures on the certified petition appeared to have been forged. Coburn has also filed an election fraud complaint with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office.
But Floyd dismissed Coburn’s lawsuit, saying the election should go forward because ballots have already been sent out. Recall election ballots were printed Aug. 23, and mail-in ballots were sent out beginning Sept. 19, according to the Beaumont Enterprise.
If Coburn is recalled, he and Pierce plan to contest the election.
“Best-case scenario is that Cross is not recalled,” Pierce said. “Allegedly, only 10 percent of the voters have spoken. The other 90 percent still need to have their voices heard.”
Groves police are investigating the fraud allegations, but Pierce said she may try to get the Texas Rangers involved to avoid a conflict of interest since the case involves Bailey and his wife.
If a majority of voters recall Coburn, who was elected last November, the City Council would appoint a replacement to complete his two-year term.
Watch 12 News Now’s report below.