Naked City

Beyond the Law in the ETJ

The state 3rd Court of Appeals dealt the city of Austin a setback earlier this month in a case that tested a municipality's prosecutorial strength in its extra-territorial jurisdiction. The court agreed with a lower court's order dismissing $8,000 in fines that the city had levied against Robert Blankenship, the owner of Hill Country Autoplex on U.S. 290 West. The city had fined Blankenship for failure to follow environmental regulations in developing his property for a used-car dealership. The city prosecuted him in Municipal Court, but Blankenship appealed that conviction and in April, County Court-at-Law Judge David Phillips agreed with Blankenship that the city had failed to demonstrate its authority to prosecute violations that occur outside its territorial limits.

The city then turned to the 3rd Court of Appeals, based in Austin, which dismissed the city's case for reasons that likely had staffers kicking around the chairs in the city attorney's office the day the opinion was handed down. The 3rd Court noted that the city's appeal had been signed by an assistant city attorney -- when, under Texas law, only Travis Co. attorney David Escamilla is authorized to file such an appeal.

While the various appeals were being made, state Rep. Todd Baxter, R-Austin, had filed legislation that would prohibit a city from prosecuting residents in its ETJ for violating local ordinances, arguing that those residents have no voice in deciding how municipal judges are appointed. (In Austin, they're appointed by the City Council, and ETJ residents, of course, can't vote in city elections.) The Baxter legislation bit the dust, however, when the Killer D's hit the trail for Ardmore back in May.

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Third Court of Appeals, Robert Blankenship, Hill Country Autoplex, Judge David Phillips, Terry Irion, Rep. Todd Baxter, extra-territorial jurisdiction, ETJ

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