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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Wednesday, October 7, 2015 by Jo Clifton
City, Junk Yard Dogs to fight in court today
Although the city of Austin has sued the Travis Central Appraisal District over its valuations of commercial and vacant properties, the first test of the lawsuit’s merit will come in court today not from TCAD, but from the commercial property owner Junk Yard Dogs LP.
The lawyers for Junk Yard Dogs, picked perhaps for their colorful name to represent 11,000 commercial property owners in Travis County, hope to get the case dismissed right off the bat. Attorney Bill Aleshire, who represents Junk Yard Dogs along with several other intervenors, said the city had agreed in writing to allow the motion for summary judgment to be heard first today. In addition to Aleshire, the intervenors are represented by several other attorneys, including Lorri Michel and Raymond Gray.
If District Judge Tim Sulak, who has been assigned to hear the case, rules in favor of Junk Yard Dogs after hearing today’s arguments, that will eliminate the need to argue over the city’s motions to dismiss a challenge from seven homeowners who wish to intervene in the lawsuit. However, it is more likely that the judge will take the matter under advisement and move on with other motions.
The city’s attorney will argue that the court should not allow the individual homeowners to intervene in the lawsuit because the city has sued only owners of commercial property and vacant land.
The property owners’ lawyers will cite unorthodox tactics on the part of the city as well as TCAD, arguing that the two entities are in cahoots, plotting their path through the lawsuit together. Without the property owners intervening, their lawyers will say, there will be no one to argue that the city has failed to follow the appropriate procedures for challenging TCAD’s appraisals.
In a response filed on Tuesday to the city’s motion to determine which parties may be allowed to remain in the lawsuit, the property owners argue that they are “necessary parties because only they will point out this court’s lack of jurisdiction.” A lack of jurisdiction would be a fatal flaw in the lawsuit.
The property owners say the court does not have jurisdiction because the city failed to file its lawsuit within 60 days of receiving notice that the Appraisal Review Board had rejected its challenge.
In fact, the Appraisal Review Board never really had an opportunity to hear the city’s arguments concerning alleged underappraisal of commercial properties because the city and TCAD agreed ahead of time that they wanted to go directly to court rather than argue about the appraisals before the review board. That’s another part of the property owners’ challenge to the court’s jurisdiction.
The city has not served the more than 11,000 commercial property owners in Travis County, and the intervenors will argue that the failure to provide the required notice about the lawsuit to these property owners is another fatal flaw in the city’s lawsuit.
The city is requesting that the court allow it to dispense with service on the property owners or alternatively to serve TCAD on behalf of those property owners.
But TCAD “is a defendant in name only,” according to the intervenors, who cite the friendly relationship between Mayor Steve Adler and other city officials and Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler. They note that the mayor and Crigler held a joint press conference to discuss the lawsuit.
Additionally, the intervenors will argue that because the city is seeking a permanent injunction to prevent property owners from using a state law that allows them to challenge their property values based on the values assigned to comparable properties, the city has made it necessary for all Travis County property owners to be parties to the lawsuit.
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