Naked City

Cap Metro Paratransit Lawsuit

A lawsuit filed last month in Travis County's 201st District Court alleges that Capital Metro's new paratransit policy violates state law. Advocates for people with disabilities have been unhappy that in recent years the transit agency has reduced its paratransit van service from the entire Cap Metro service area to just locations within three-quarters of a mile of fixed-route (i.e., regular bus) service corridors. Cap Metro made that policy yet more strict this year. The suit, filed by Pflugerville resident Mari Hunziker and Austin resident Stephen Kerr, points to a state law requiring transportation authorities to continue providing paratransit service to communities that have withdrawn from those authorities – as Cedar Park, West Lake Hills, Rollingwood, and Pflugerville did when they parted ways with Cap Metro more than a decade ago. The suit says that the changes have made it necessary for Kerr to spend $300 per month to get to his workplace in West Lake (partly subsidized by his employer) and "forced Ms. Hunziker to rely on the kindness of friends and fellow church members to meet her transportation needs." Cap Metro board members discussed the suit in executive session Monday, and according to an agency spokesman, Cap Metro is "still reviewing the petition." – Lee Nichols

Innocent, Actually

Lawyers for Anthony Graves – who was wrongly convicted of a grisly 1992 multiple murder in Somer­ville and spent 18 years behind bars (12 on death row) before finally being freed late last year – filed suit in Travis County civil district court this week seeking a declaratory ruling that he is actually innocent. That ruling would clear the way for Graves to collect compensation from the state for the nearly two decades he spent wrongly incarcerated. Because prosecutors, rather than a judge, declared him innocent last fall, Comptroller Susan Combs has denied him access to wrongful conviction compensation. For more, see "Graves Sues for Innocence," Feb. 28, at austinchronicle.com/newsdesk. – Jordan Smith

Lawrence Lessig: Saving Democracy

On Monday night, UT's Thompson Conference Center hosted Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig speaking on the politically corrosive effects of large amounts of money on representative democracy. Lessig, known for his work on law, technology, and freedom of information, is the founder of Fix Congress First, a national effort to promote fair campaign laws. He's an engaging speaker, favoring simple pop animation over bullet slides, and he makes a persuasive case that the explosion of campaign funding, especially from corporate sources, has destroyed the proper relationship between government, citizens, and the law. He cited three major examples: 1) the agricultural industry, where sugar and corn interests have distorted the food market; 2) the financial industries, where deregulation has collapsed, socializing risk and privatizing benefits; and 3) the oil and gas industry – with the Deepwater Horizon disaster a visible triumph of profit over safety regulation. Lessig proposed a system of small contributions – "democracy vouchers" – through the tax code, which could begin to replace the dominance of big contributions. "We have lost our Repub­lic," he said. "Please join us to get it back." It won't be that easy, replied former state Rep. Sherri Greenberg of UT's LBJ School, Steve Bick­er­staff of UT Law School, and Brian Rob­erts of UT's Government Department, all of whom suggested that however stymied, money finds its own way – more so in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. (Lessig did have a panel ally in Public Strategies' Mark McKinnon, a Fix Congress First board member.) Lessig acknowledged the difficulties, even the likelihood of failure, but said that citizens, like soldiers, have no choice but to do what they can "to find a passion for making this democracy work." – Michael King

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