Gun show producer files lawsuit against Marfa

A scene from Romeu’s Devil’s Advocate Armory gun show in Marfa last year. Marfa shuttered public buildings this spring as a precaution against coronavirus, preventing the 2020 event from happening. Photo by Maisie Crow

MARFA — Devil’s Advocate Armory, a local gun show, was scheduled to take place in Marfa this May. But Marfa city leaders had already closed public buildings as a precaution against coronavirus, nixing the gun show as well as any other events that may have been scheduled in Marfa-owned buildings.

At the time, organizer Gregory Romeu threatened to sue — and now, he’s done just that. In a lawsuit, filed in Presidio County district court this month, Romeu argues Marfa breached its contract with him by refusing to allow his event to go on as planned, despite the ongoing coronavirus crisis. The lawsuit asks for monetary damages of at least $100,000 and interest “at the highest legal rate,” as well as attorney fees and costs.

In February, Romeu spent around $550 to book the Marfa Activity Center for his gun show. Around a month later — on March 20 — the city ordered public buildings closed.

Romeu, though, says he wasn’t informed that Marfa public buildings were closed — and that his event therefore couldn’t happen — until around a week before the event was scheduled to take place. At that point, he had already “expended thousands of dollars” organizing the show and had “contracted with vendors to attend and sell firearms,” the lawsuit states.

In court filings, Romeu’s lawyer, Warren Norred, cites a Texas attorney general opinion stating that emergency orders from local governments in Texas can’t “regulate or restrict the sale of firearms.” He also includes sworn declarations from four vendors, all of whom said they expected to make thousands at the event.

Besides lost potential revenue, Norred argues Romeu also lost money he’d already spent to set-up the event. He estimates those losses at around $3,000, including $400 spent on radio ads and more than $2,000 spent on “items necessary” to “make the Gun Show a success.”

Romeu’s fight with the city over this issue has been ongoing since at least May. In a post on his website earlier this year, he argued that Marfa officials had “committed TYRANNY when they shut down YOUR gun show.”

Also in May — shortly before the scheduled event — Romeu’s lawyer, Norred, sent a letter to the city, which is included in court filings.

In that letter, which The Big Bend Sentinel previously reported on in June, Norred acknowledged that “the City of Marfa can certainly choose to keep city buildings closed based on whatever reason it chooses, or no reason at all.” But he noted the AG opinion that emergency orders “do not stop gun sales” and that Marfa had no confirmed coronavirus cases at that point. Therefore, he argued that Marfa did not do enough to inform Romeu that his event would likely be canceled.

“If the City had contacted Mr. Romeu in February or March or even April, the parties could have perhaps worked something out,” Norred wrote. But since “none of that happened,” Norred warned city leaders, he would recommend the “immediate filing” of a lawsuit.

At press time on Tuesday, Marfa officials had not yet filed a response to the filing. But Teresa Todd, the city’s attorney, disputed the basis of the lawsuit.

“It’s a breach of contract case,” Todd said, “and we had no contract.”

After Marfa received Romeu’s first letter, city officials held an executive session about the issue. Ultimately, they decided to respond with a legal letter of their own.

In that letter — which is dated from May and also included in court filings — Marfa’s lawyer, Andrew Messer, argued that “respectfully, the City does not believe a contract was made.”

Messer argued that the pandemic is a serious threat. At that point, he noted, COVID-19 had already killed more than 1,500 Texans.

Messer cited both local ordinances and statewide orders to argue that Marfa “cannot open its facilities at this time.” But regardless, he wrote, “I am asking the City to return the deposit.”