Texans Against High Speed Rail – TAHSR for short — has been hard at work, and we wanted to provide you with an update on recent events. As promised, we are challenging Texas Central at every turn and will keep on doing so.
Your donations have made these efforts possible. As this fight continues and we prepare for the 2017 legislative session, we will need more donations to keep up with Texas Central and their Japanese partners.
Leon County lawsuit – Jim Miles v. Texas Central
This is the case Leon County resident Jim Miles filed against Texas Central to challenge the overbroad survey form they have been pressuring landowners to sign. At first, the issues in the case were narrow. Is the survey form unlawful? And, does Texas Central have a right to enter onto Jim’s private property?
Texas Central claimed the court did not have jurisdiction to rule on Jim’s lawsuit. They said they had no intention of suing Jim so there was nothing for the court to decide.
Jim amended his lawsuit about a month ago, in order to challenge Texas Central’s claim that they are a railroad (or electric railway) with eminent domain authority. Landowners up and down the corridor have been wondering about this issue for quite some time. How can Texas Central claim to be a railroad when they don’t own any trains or tracks, and don’t even have the money to build their train? It is a good question. Texas Central and their landmen keep saying they are a railroad with eminent domain authority, so Jim decided to make them prove it.
In response to Jim’s new claim, Texas Central filed a counterclaim against him. That’s right – they sued him even though they had already told the court they wouldn’t.
On Thursday, June 23, Jim’s attorneys from The Beckham Group, Blake Beckham and Patrick McShan, went to Austin to take the deposition of Texas Central’s representative. For four hours, their representative tried to dodge simple questions he should have known the answers to. For instance, how and when did Texas Central become a railroad? How can Texas Central claim it owns and operates a railroad when it doesn’t even have any trains or tracks? Their representative claims they are operating a railroad, but that “it doesn’t have a physical form.” These “non-answers” went on and on.
On other important questions, Texas Central’s attorneys wouldn’t let the representative answer. For example, he wasn’t allowed to answer when Texas Central claims it obtained the power of eminent domain. Apparently, Texas Central wants to act like they have eminent domain authority, but we’re not allowed to know how or when they got it. Their attorney claims this is a “legal conclusion.” If that’s true, then why is Texas Central and its landmen telling landowners they have eminent domain, when there hasn’t been a “legal conclusion” by any court ruling they have it? Attorneys don’t instruct a witness to not answer questions unless they know the answer will be unfavorable to their case.
Jim will soon be asking the court to force Texas Central’s representative to answer these and other important questions. TAHSR will be posting the deposition for all landowners to read as soon as possible. For now, what we want our members to know is that your money is being well-spent. Getting Texas Central under oath on these eminent domain issues has been a goal of ours. We are going to make them answer tough questions under oath rather than just spouting out bold and unsupported claims through the media.
Your thinking that Texas Central is not a railroad, and that it does not have eminent domain authority, is the right way to think. Once you see the deposition, it will be clear that Texas Central is not a railroad—they are just pretending to be one. If we were Texas Central’s Japanese partner, we would be worried. It appears they have a serious problem on their hands regarding this whole “are you a railroad and do you have eminent domain” issue.
Byron Cook letter to the Attorney General
Recently, State Representative Byron Cook requested that the Attorney General issue an advisory opinion as to whether Texas Central is a railroad with eminent domain authority. In essence, Representative Cook is making the same argument developed by TAHSR, which Jim Miles is making in his case—you aren’t a railroad just because you say you are. Interested parties are allowed to submit comments to Cook’s request, and TAHSR intends to do so. Blake and Patrick are in the process of drafting as we speak. We will share our brief with you after we submit it.
Surface Transportation Board
We circulated to our members through social media the reply we filed to Texas Central’s Petition for Exemption. If you have not been able to read it yet, please contact us and we will send you a link or get you a copy. Our reply is the first comprehensive document which lays out exactly why Texas Central’s project will be a disaster, both financially and to the environment. Your donations allowed us to engage a specialist in the field, and with his help we believe our replies give us our best chance to convince the Board to deny Texas Central’s petitions. This would really knock one of their legs out from under them. They want the federal government to bail them out because they know Texans do not want the project.
Although the rules do not permit Texas Central to file a response to our reply, they filed one anyway. We had called them out for not providing any evidence to support their claims. Now, after all the replies have been filed, Texas Central submitted some evidence but we don’t even know what it is, because Texas Central filed all of it under seal. The only people who can see it are the three Board members who will make the ultimate decision.
We will be moving to strike Texas Central’s response because it is in violation of two separate rules. If Texas Central had something to say, or evidence to support their claims, they should have done so at the time they filed their petition. But we all know they don’t play by the rules. Instead, Texas Central “sandbagged,” saving their arguments and supposed evidence until after TAHSR and other opposed parties filed their replies. TAHSR will share our motion to strike once it is filed.
Texas Central also filed a motion for a protective order, which the Board granted even before we had a chance to respond. As a result, Texas Central can now stamp documents Confidential or Highly Confidential as part of their ongoing campaign to hide information. The fact that Texas Central claims to be transparent has turned into a complete joke. They simply will not disclose information to the public, because they know what will happen if they do.
Regarding timing of the Surface Transportation Board petitions, Texas Central asked for expedited consideration of their Petition for Clarification—within 90 days or as soon as possible. That petition was filed on April 19, so it has already been two months. They did not ask for expedited consideration of their Petition for Exemption, which was also filed on April 19.
The first decision the Board will have to make is whether it has jurisdiction over the project. If it does not, the Board will dismiss the petitions, which would happen sooner rather than later. On the other hand, if the Board determines it has jurisdiction, it will then have to decide the merits of both petitions. That might take a little longer. We wish we could give you a better estimate of when we expect a decision, but it would be purely a guess.
Blake and Patrick drafted and served comprehensive document requests and interrogatories, but Texas Central didn’t answer any of our questions. They don’t know how much a ticket will cost, how much parking there will be, or what security they will need. Instead of answering many of our simple, straightforward questions, they told us they would produce documents. But, we still haven’t seen any. Our guess is when we do get documents from them, they will all be stamped Highly Confidential so only Blake and Patrick are allowed to see them, and only if they first sign a protective order agreeing they can be sued if they disclose any of the information in the documents. How is that for transparency?
We know Texas Central has sued landowners in Harris, Dallas and Ellis Counties, at the very least. But Texas Central still does not have an injunction from any court. If you or someone you know has been sued, please contact us. We can’t help you unless we know about the lawsuit.
Blake and Patrick are currently in discussions with Texas Central’s attorneys regarding when and where the first injunction hearing will be held. We will relay that information to you once a decision is made. In the meantime, there is no doubt Texas Central will keep filing lawsuits to try to catch landowners off guard, and to bully their way onto more private property. We have told them to inform us of all lawsuits they file, but we can’t trust them to do that. Please share the word and make sure TAHSR is contacted if a lawsuit has been filed.
Meetings in Washington DC
With the help of our lobbyists, Judge Ben Leman and Blake Beckham recently went to Washington DC for three days to meet with multiple Congressman and Senators, and their staffs. Judge Leman and Blake met personally with Kevin Brady and other influential officials. They took with them all of TAHSR’s filings and other documents from the Surface Transportation Board showing that this project will be a financial disaster. They also shared with them the opposition statements from the thousands of landowners who oppose the project. We are doing our best to convince these DC officials that this project is a bad idea of Texans and for US taxpayers. Since the meetings, Judge Leman and Blake have had many follow-up discussions, and fully intend to keep an open flow of communication. We need all the help we can get.
Meetings in Austin
Just this past week, Kyle Workman and Blake Beckham went to the State Capitol to meet with Texas Senators and their offices, along with other state officials. Our team continues to gear up for the 2017 legislative session.
The Beckham Group Facebook page – Coming Soon
Blake and Patrick have been following TAHSR’s Facebook page and are very impressed with the activity and involvement from our members. The Beckham Group is in the process of creating a Facebook page so that Blake and Patrick can interact with you and answer your questions from time to time. We believe this will help keep our members up to date on all of TAHSR’s behind-the-scenes legal work and efforts.
Public information lawsuit against TxDOT and Texas Attorney General
TAHSR recently amended its petition in the case against TxDOT and the Texas Attorney General for their failure to turn over public information that Texas Central provided to TxDOT. In the near future, we will be moving to compel the deposition of a Texas Central representative. We want to ask Texas Central who their phantom competitors are, because we sure don’t know of anyone else wanting to build a $15 billion train with Japanese money.
We also filed a new open records request for all information Texas Central has provided to TxDOT, since our last request. TxDOT is once again refusing to disclose public information. And, just like it did last time, TxDOT is asking the Attorney General for his blessing to continue hiding Texas Central’s information. We were hoping TxDOT would honor its obligations, but unfortunately that is not the case. As a result, we are going to have to bring TxDOT’s latest actions to the Travis County court’s attention.
In order to continue the fight, please be sure that you are an active member of TAHSR. Don’t let Texas Central usurp the private property rights of Texans. A donation today helps us hold them accountable.