Thursday, September 20, 2007 – In Travis County District Court today,TURF Founder Terri Hall, filed a petition for a temporary restraining order against the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to immediately halt its illegal taxpayer funded, toll road campaign. Judges from all over the state are at a conference in Galveston, TX so a visiting judge, Bill Bender, was assigned the case. The lawyer with the Attorney General’s office, Kristina Silcox, representing individuals employed by TxDOT who are named in the suit, objected to the judge, and having no available replacement, the hearing for a temporary restraining order was postponed until Monday.
Judge Bender was apparently unacceptable to the State since he resides in Seguin, which happens to be in the path of the Trans Texas Corridor.
“TxDOT didn’t want this case heard before a judge whose community is deeply affected by the Trans Texas Corridor,” thinks Hall. “Every day this case isn’t heard is another day TxDOT illegally spends taxpayer money on a toll road ad campaign.”
Silcox also entered a plea to the jurisdiction, which is the State’s new playbook to force a strong case into an appeals court abyss (as they did with a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Planning Organizations filed in October of 2005 and is still stuck in an appeals court black hole: read about it here.). The State’s argument will not hold up but it won’t matter. The code, changed in 2005, allows the State to dump any good case it stands to lose by doing a fast track appeal as soon as they lose a motion and BEFORE the case is EVER heard! If they win the motion, the case is dismissed. Either way, they’ll call it a win.
“Not so fast,” says Hall. “These fast track appeals are the State’s get out of jail free card and resemble the State’s fast track eminent domain that forcibly removes landowners in 90 days. We knew they’d try this and we’ll combat it so that this case is heard and TxDOT is FORCED to comply with the LAW! I thought we are a nation governed by the rule of law, but since Governor Perry took office and started promoting his toll road schemes, he and his transportation commission rule more like an oligarchy. Even with a stacked deck, the people of Texas seek justice and will fight on.”
This lawsuit is brought pursuant to § 37, Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. TxDOT’s expenditure of public funds for the Keep Texas Moving campaign is illegal, and an injunction prohibiting any further illegal expenditures in this regard.
TxDOT has violated § 556.004 of the Texas Government Code by directing the expenditure of public funds for political advocacy in support of toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor, and have openly indicated TxDOT’s intention to directly lobby the United States Congress in favor of additional toll road programs.
On August 22, 2007, TURF filed a formal complaint with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle to investigate TxDOT’s illegal lobbying and asked him to prosecute TxDOT for criminal wrongdoing. See the formal complaint here . Today’s petition seeks immediate injunctive relief in a civil proceeding.
“Between TxDOT’s PR campaign, report to Congress asking that all limitations on tolling be lifted including buying back existing interstates, and Chairman Ric Williamson’s recent trip to D.C. lobbying for the same, it’s clear they’ve not only crossed the line into illegal lobbying, but they leaped over it,” says Hall.
TxDOT’s report to Congress, Forward Momentum, ignited a category 5 blowback that prompted Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and U.S. Representatives Charlie Gonzalez,and Ciro Rodriguez to file legislation (S 2019 and HR 3510) to halt the tolling of existing interstates and to prohibit TxDOT from buying back interstates for the purpose of tolling them (read more here). TxDOT’s actions also prompted Rep. Rodriguez to call for a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on converting interstates to tollways and on TxDOT’s ad campaign (read more here.).