Felon running for Houston City Council says she wants to serve her community

A convicted felon running for city council says she's eligible to stay in the race. KPRC 2 Reporter Brittany Jeffers reports.

HOUSTON – Cynthia Bailey said Tuesday that she has served her time and now she wants to serve her community by sitting on the Houston City Council.

The convicted felon who is running for the District B seat is headed to a December runoff against Tarsha Jackson. 

Last week, third-place candidate Renee Jefferson-Smith filed legal action seeking to have Bailey disqualified from the runoff, citing her prior felony conviction in 2007. She also claimed that Bailey lied about the conviction on her application for candidacy.

"What I want others to get is that she lost to me and that's it," Bailey said. "It's a loss."

Oliver Brown, Bailey's attorney, said his client is eligible to run for office, despite her felonious record.

"A lot of people are under the perception that people who have a felony cannot run, and that's false," Brown said.

Brown has filed a plea in the case and cited the Houston City Charter and two specific reasons he said that Bailey is eligible to run. 

"My client is a qualified voter," Brown said. "If you look at the definition of qualified voter under the election code, it states even if you had a felony and you served out your time or you're done with your parole or probation, your voting rights are restored. So, therefore, she's now a qualified voter, and she's been in this district for 12 months, so she gets to be on the ballot." 

The legal department with the city of Houston responded by saying that the "court will provide guidance on the matter."

Gerry Birnberg, who has practiced election code litigation. said that the next step is court proceedings. 

"The next step is court hearings to determine whether or not the official ballot should be printed with her name on it or not," Birnberg said.

Birnberg said the court's decision regarding ballot printing doesn't necessarily determine whether she is eligible for the position.

KPRC 2 reached out to Jefferson-Smith's former campaign advisor for comment but did not hear back. Originally, it was reported that KPRC 2 had tried to contact Jefferson-Smith's attorney, but that was not correct.

Attorney Nicole Bates, who represents Jefferson-Smith issued the following statement Wednesday:

"Yesterday, KPRC Channel 2, broadcasted a follow-up story regarding the legal proceedings surrounding Houston City Council District B. This story was also displayed on their Click2Houston website. In the story, Brittany Jeffers reported that they had reached out to the attorneys for Renee Jefferson-Smith, this however is not true.

"Therefore, we provide this press release as a response. First, Ms. Bailey and her attorney claim that she has paid her debt to society and that because she has her voting rights restored, she is a qualified voter and she has been in the district for the requisite amount of time, and therefore eligible. This is problematic. They fail to understand that your right to vote is not the same as your right to seek or hold office. The laws in Texas have evolved to the point of now restoring the right to vote to felons once they have completed their sentences. This has only been the case since 1997, when Governor George W. Bush signed those changes into law. However, as stated in Attorney General Ken Paxton's Opinion KP-0251, the right to hold office is not available to felons and requires a pardon or a release of the felon's disability. Ms. Bailey has neither of those.

"Second, Ms. Bailey's attorney makes the legally faulty assertion that municipal charters can supersede the state constitution. They do not. Article 11, Sec. 5 of the Texas Constitution states, '…The adoption or amendment of charters is subject to such limitations as may be prescribed by the Legislature, and no charter or any ordinance passed under said charter shall contain any provision inconsistent with the Constitution of the State, or of the general laws enacted by the Legislature of this State.' Article 16, Sec 2. of the Texas Constitution specifically forbids felons from holding office. In particular it states, 'Laws shall be made to exclude from office persons who have been convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes.' Being convicted of theft of more than $259,971.75 from one of the poorest school districts in the State of Texas, and certainly the poorest in District B in 2007, fits into this category.

"Finally, Ms. Bailey also has stated that everyone knew she was a felon and it wasn't a problem until Renee Jefferson-Smith lost. This is also not true our client like many in the community were concerned about this but assumed that the City or County election officials would do something; however, nothing was done even after the initial August 29, 2019 story by Phil Archer, KPRC. Ms. Bailey tries to mischaracterize this as being a case of 'sore losing,' but really this is a case of someone who unfairly injected themselves into a race and caused harm to not just one candidate, but all candidates in the race. Ms. Bailey has put her own interests ahead of the interests of the community she claims she so desperately wants to serve."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with both a correction and a statement from Jefferson-Smith's attorney.

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