No More Cookies for Court

Last Wednesday, Hays County lost its second of two Open Meetings lawsuits brought by a citizens group that has long challenged the Commissioners Court's way of doing business. The Hays County Water Planning Partnership accused the commissioners of violating state laws on two occasions in both their discussions and actions involving controversial road projects. The lawsuits stem from events that occurred in October 1999 and May 2000. In one claim, a district court ruled for the county, but the 3rd Court of Appeals reversed the decision in favor of HWCPP. In the other, a district court ruling favored HCWPP, and the Court of Appeals upheld the decision.

According to court records, Hays County spent at least $80,000 fighting the lawsuit. The county also tried to win attorney's fees in the judgments, but was instead ordered to pay the plaintiffs $20,000 in legal costs.

County officials had characterized the citizens group as "aggressive" and "disruptive" to the transportation process; HCWPP leader Erin Foster says she's relieved the courts did not agree with the county's characterization. "Obviously the lawsuits were not frivolous attempts to publicly humiliate them," Foster said, referring to county officials' public statements along those lines. "This is good for the little people, but at the same time everybody loses because of the cost to the taxpayers."

Austin attorney Phil Durst represented HCWPP at both district and appeals court levels. "We're very pleased," he said. "We've caught them twice with their hands in the cookie jar."

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