Local gun show producer threatens lawsuit against city

MARFA — Gregory Romeu, the man behind Devil’s Advocate Armory, is sparring with the city over the continued closure of all city buildings, a move taken by local officials during the coronavirus pandemic that resulted in the cancellation of Romeu’s May 30-31 gun show.

Mayor Manny Baeza and city council received a letter on Memorial Day from attorney Warren Norred, who is representing Romeu. The letter stated that if the city did not renege on its building closures in order to host the Devil’s Advocate Armory gun show that weekend, the attorney suggested he would file a suit against the city asking the district court to order the building reopened.

“Generally speaking, the City of Marfa can certainly choose to keep city buildings closed based on whatever reason it chooses, or no reason at all. But what it cannot do is form an agreement to lease its building, take my client’s money, and then a week before the show make a decision to breach that contract based on zero cases of COVID-19 and a Governor’s executive orders concerning the COVID-19 virus to stop a gun show after months of inaction,” Norred wrote.

Romeu admits that he didn’t have a formal contract with the city. Instead, the city was more casual with their rentals – Romeu had a $550 receipt slip dated February 14 from the City of Marfa Visitors Center, booking the Marfa Activity Center for a gun show. The city had subsequently shuttered their buildings on March 20 and have not reopened since.

Romeu said it wasn’t until May 15 that he was alerted that the building would not open for his event. He had traveled multiple times around the West Texas region promoting the event at that point, and had purchased radio ads and catering for the weekend. The letter mentions those financial losses, which Romeu repeated, saying along with his own financial losses, his nearly 30 vendors were upset with the cancellation and loss of revenue and that he was losing the trust of buyers over the shuttered event.

“I went out on a limb financially, physically and mentally and put it together. I created what would’ve probably been the most successful gun show in history,” Romeu said in an interview this week. “There’s been so many principles destroyed, so many values, morals tossed out the window,” he said. “If you don’t join the fights, you’ll lose your rights.”

Norred also took space in the letter to mention his recent success with a case for Shelley Luther, the Dallas hair salon owner who opened her business during Governor Greg Abbott’s shut down orders. After a legal tussle, Abbott subsequently rescinded the ability to jail violators.

“No one can predict immediate victory,” Norred’s letter said. “But when my office challenged the City of Dallas regarding salon owner Shelley Luther, the Supreme Court has agreed with us far [sic]; my analysis is that Marfa’s case is much weaker than that of Dallas. You have an actual contract with Mr. Romeu.”

After receiving the letter from Norred, the city held an emergency city council meeting the morning of Thursday, May 28, where they met in an executive session to speak with City Attorney Teresa Todd for legal advice. When the session concluded and the council rejoined the public, Councilmember Buck Johnston swiftly moved to continue the closure of all city buildings including the Marfa Activity Center building, reasserting the cancellation of the event.

Council voted unanimously with Johnston, and in a second vote, secured legal representation for the City of Marfa on any litigation brought on behalf of Gregory Romeu or Devil’s Advocate Armory (with a $5,000 limit), hiring Messer, Fort and McDonald

Andy Messer soon drafted a letter responding to Norred. In it, Messer asserted that under Texas law, “It is clear that no binding contract ever existed between the City and Mr. Romeu,” and so no agreement could be breached. In fact, Messer said that cities may only enter into contracts with the express authorization of city council by vote; Messer said council never considered such a motion.

Messer also quoted Governor Abbott’s GA-23 order that said local government operations may be opened as determined by the local government, and it was the purview of Marfa to keep its government buildings closed. Messer asked the City of Marfa to return Romeu’s deposit.

The city later attempted to refund Romeu’s deposit for the building through Norred, but as of Tuesday had not heard a response.

Reached for comment on Tuesday about their plan going forward, Norred provided a brief statement: “Marfa did the wrong thing, and we are looking into our options.”