September 2, 2011

Some of the Texas Legislature's more controversial work (redistricting, voter ID, etc.) tends to attract legal challenges, and we need to inform you about one of those legal actions to which YOU were just made a party in federal court (if you have prosecutorial jurisdiction over Class C misdemeanors) and which bars YOU from enforcing portions of a new law.

HB 15: Abortion Regulation.   As you may have learned from headlines in your local news media of choice, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks (Western District, Austin) recently granted a preliminary injunction against the implementation and enforcement of certain provisions of House Bill 15, which imposes new requirements on abortion providers. That bill amends portions of Health & Safety Code Ch. 171 (Abortion), a violation of which is prosecutable as a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 (H&SC §171.008). That's where you misdemeanor prosecutors come in.

Based on a legal challenge brought by a group called Texas Medical Providers Performing Abortion Services (and others), portions of that law have now been ruled unconstitutional pending a hearing on a permanent injunction. In addition, to prohibit enforcement of those provisions, the court granted the plaintiffs' request to certify as a defendant class all district attorneys and county attorneys in Texas who exercise misdemeanor jurisdiction. (The plaintiffs apparently forgot about all the municipal attorneys out there with that same jurisdiction over Class Cs, but that's not our problem.)

In addition, the court made Travis County Attorney David Escamilla the class representative for that class. That is not a role David sought—in fact, he argued against certification of the defendant class—but this is what sometimes happens when you are an elected prosecutor in Travis County. To date, David's role has been to represent the class; he has not (and will not) take any position on the constitutionality of the statute. That issue is being handled by the Attorney General.

If you would like to learn more about the legal status, pleadings, or proceedings in the case, you may contact Travis County Asst. County Attorney Elaine Casas for more information at 512/854-9415 or Elaine (dot) Casas (at) Copies of the two-page injunction and the full opinion can be accessed below.