GROVES — An openly gay former councilman in this small Southeast Texas town is suing after he was defeated in a recall election, an effort that surfaced when nude photos of him were anonymously sent to city hall.
Cross Coburn was ousted as a councilmember in Groves, Texas, which is 92 miles (148 kilometers) east of Houston, during a recall election earlier this month. The lawsuit filed Nov. 14 in a state court asks the court to declare the election invalid due to “deficiencies, fraud and forgery” in the recall petition. The petition came after Coburn’s nude photos, which were sent in private communication on a gay dating app, were mailed to city hall by an anonymous source.
Coburn says the recall effort targeted him because of his sexuality.
“They thought this was a very surefire way to get me out of office,” he said in an interview Tuesday, Nov. 20.
Despite the loss, Coburn, who grew up in Groves and turned 20 years old on Tuesday, said he’s confident he will get justice through the litigation.
The City of Groves and its city clerk, Kimbra Lowery, are listed as defendants.
Coburn’s lawyer, Jill Swearingen Pierce, accused Mayor Brad Bailey and his allies on the city council of leaking the nude photos to media to stir up attention for the recall petition.
The mayor did not return a message seeking comment on Tuesday.
In September, Bailey said he was glad about the recall election going forward and said “I think you should be held to a higher position up here and his track record speaks for itself,” according to a Texas Monthly article.
Pierce says three people have reported their petition signatures were forgeries and a forensic handwriting expert has questioned the authenticity of dozens of petition signatures. She said they are in the process of collecting signatures used in past public records to compare with the questionable signatures.
One of the three people said she did sign the recall petition for her and her husband, but reported that the signatures on a specific page of the petition were not signed by her.
The litigation argues there are other issues with the recall petition. Several residents have two signatures on the petition, according to the suit, and there are instances where one spouse signed for themselves and their significant other.