More rail obstruction

And Chito Vela calls for police oversight.

More rail obstruction
Barton Springs on a recent Saturday.

It gives me no pleasure to bring you the latest update on Project Connect and the efforts to obstruct it. If you don't quite understand the legal intricacies, I hope it gives you comfort that I don't either.

The bottom line is that Attorney General Ken Paxton is trying to block the Austin Transit Partnership from issuing debt to finance the construction of the rail project. And today he appears to have succeeded in at least delaying it.

There was a trial set for 10 a.m. this morning in front of Travis County Judge Eric Shepperd on the question. ATP had brought a bond validation suit, essentially asking the courts to allow it to issue debt without the attorney general's blessing. However, moments after the trial began, the AG filed an appeal challenging ATP's standing to bring such a suit.

This is where it gets weird. Rather than ask Judge Shepperd to rule in their favor, ATP is asking him to not rule at all. KUT describes the arguments ATP made in April:

"I've never in my career asked a judge to take a matter under advisement, but this is the case," said Paul Trahan, an attorney with Norton Rose Fulbright, who's representing the city. Trahan told the judge if he did rule on ATP's qualifications to file the suit, it would trigger a lengthy appeals process, delaying the case for months and leaving ATP unable to issue bonds in the meantime. 
"Even if you rule in [ATP's] favor, this case will come to a screeching halt," Trahan said at the April hearing. "It will be years before the merits of the case are ever reached." 
An appeal after the trial concludes would be fast-tracked, because the law that allows for the bond validation lawsuit requires a quick outcome. An appeal before the trial wouldn't get the same priority.

Shepperd did not make a ruling today, but did make clear from the bench, according to those present, that he thinks the AG's challenge is nonsense.

So what's happening next is that the AG's appeal will be heard by the Third Court of Appeals. The good news for ATP is that all of the judges there are Dems. The bad news is that, whatever twists and turns this legal nightmare takes, the final destination will likely be the Texas Supreme Court, which is all Republican. I agree with the ATP that a good faith reading of the law shows that they absolutely have the authority to issue debt –– this is why the Republicans tried to change the law last year.

ATP executive director Greg Canally released the following statement:

“Austin Transit Partnership and the City of Austin asked for this trial today so that we could have an impartial judge confirm that we have complied with state law at every step in moving Project Connect forward,” said ATP Executive Director Greg Canally. "A handful of transit opponents are taking unprecedented measures to delay these proceedings and deny ATP, the City and Austin voters our day in court because they know the law does not support their position. ATP and the City were ready for trial today, and we will file an emergency motion to dismiss this latest attempt to delay. We are confident that the Third Court of Appeals will act quickly to dismiss this baseless appeal, enabling the trial to begin soon. As we have been doing throughout this process, ATP will continue advancing Austin Light Rail, which was overwhelmingly approved by Austin voters at the ballot box.”

The limits on police oversight in a weak Council system

CM Chito Vela says it's time the city fully implement the police oversight ordinance that voters overwhelmingly approved a little over a year ago. The problem is that he and the other 10 members of City Council (most of whom share his view) can't really do anything about it.