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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Thursday, April 6, 2017 by Jo Clifton
Bastrop’s lawyer claims Aleshire in contempt
David Bragg, the attorney for the city of Bastrop, has threatened to seek a contempt of court ruling against Austin attorney Bill Aleshire because of Aleshire’s representation of a Bastrop resident in a lawsuit accusing the city of violating the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Aleshire filed suit against Bastrop City Council this week on behalf of Bastrop resident Paul Burt, alleging that Council violated the act in 2013 when it voted to cancel a contract with Pine Forest Investment Group LLC.
Burt is asking that the court declare that vote void because of its failure to comply with Texas law. The item was not listed on the Council agenda on the date of the vote, May 28, 2013. The minutes of the meeting, however, reflect that Council came out of executive session and Council Member Willie DeLaRosa made a motion to “authorize the city manager to issue a letter to the trustee over the Pine Forest Unit #6 regarding the city’s position as to the status of the development in that subdivision.” The motion carried unanimously, according to the minutes.
Although Burt resides in one of the houses in Pine Forest Units 7-12, he was not a party to the Pine Forest lawsuit. He did, however, provide an affidavit in which he said he saw District Judge Carson Campbell speaking with attorneys for the government during a recess of the trial.
Bragg sees it differently. After receiving a copy of the lawsuit, Bragg wrote to Aleshire stating that the open meetings cause of action was already decided in the lawsuit between the Pine Forest Investment Group and the Bastrop governments. The Pine Forest Property Owners Association, of which Burt was a member, Bragg notes, intervened in that lawsuit and alleged the Open Meetings Act violation.
He wrote, “I am even more concerned that the filing of the petition by you (and probably Mr. Burt) violates the injunction issued by Judge Campbell in his Final Judgment which prohibits you specifically from ‘taking any action to enforce the real estate contract (and) the construction development agreement. According to your pleadings you and Mr. Burt seek to set aside the city’s cancellation of the contracts by voiding the Council’s vote. You also make the statement in your petition, ‘(w)ho knows if reversing the illegal vote by the Bastrop at City Council that started this mess will help resolve the mess(.)’ I have read the statement to mean, quite plainly, that you hope that reviving the canceled contract will have an impact on ‘this mess.'”
However, Bragg did not address the open meetings question and did not return a phone call from the Austin Monitor seeking comment.
Aleshire represented three Pine Forest residents, not including Burt, concerning a side dispute about membership of the property owners association board.
Aleshire responded to Bragg on Wednesday, disputing the Bastrop lawyer’s claims about who is impacted by the final judgment in the Pine Forest Investment Group case, as well as whether that judgment referenced the open meetings allegations.
According to Aleshire, although the original pleading from the Pine Forest Property Owners Association alleged an open meetings violation, the amended petition said nothing about it and the judge did not address the issue in his final judgment.
“To the best of my knowledge no court has ever received evidence about or made a ruling about the May 28, 2013 illegal votes on Council Member DeLaRosa’s motion to act on the Pine Forest matter. … Paul Burt makes an open meetings act claim that he has every right to make,” Aleshire wrote.
In addition, he said, “As to your suggestion that I cannot represent Paul Burt in this matter because of the Final Judgment and Injunction in the PFIG case: Mr. Burt was not a party to that case. He is free to choose any attorney he wants to represent him in his Open Meetings case. … I have never violated a court order and am not doing so in this case.”
Aleshire is well-known for his advocacy in the area of open meetings and public information.
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