No Contempt in Jumpolin Hearing
Procedural issues keep judge from taking up merits
F&F Real Estate Ventures won a round in court last week in their ongoing battle with the owners of Jumpolin – a piñata business demolished by F&F, the property's owners, in February.
A court hearing last Thursday centered on a complaint filed by Jumpolin lawyers alleging F&F Ventures had violated a judge's order not to develop the land until a lawsuit seeking damages for the destruction is heard in December. F&F Ventures has cleared the site into a parking lot for a new tenant, Blue Cat Cafe, which is located next door. That violates the previous order, Jumpolin lawyers had alleged, and asked that F&F be held in contempt of court for failing to abide by the injunction.
But the judge who heard the complaint – while expressing empathy for the plight of Jumpolin's owners, Sergio and Monica Lejarazu – ruled against them, saying the proper filings weren't submitted in time to bring the case forward.
"This is definitely not what we were hoping for," said Jumpolin attorney Adam Bernhard in a phone interview. "It was our position they [F&F Ventures] started altering the premises. It comes with the lens, the tenor, the defendants have been very disrespectful of the law all along."
District Judge Amy Clark Meachum ruled the Lejarazus' lawyers had failed to follow correct procedure to allow the court to find F&F Ventures in contempt. She did not speak to the merits of the allegations, and the Lejarazus' lawsuit against F&F Ventures is still in the offing, with a first hearing on the matter now scheduled Dec. 14. In her ruling, Meachum also noted that contempt has a heavy burden of proof, and that the previous injunction was not specific enough for the Lejarazus to show that clearing the lot for parking would be a violation of it. She said the Lejarazus could file a request for a new, more detailed injunction.
Bernhard blamed the loss less on the rigors of the filing process and more on the reassignment of the case to a new judge. Travis County has a central docket in such civil matters, essentially rotating cases among its jurists in sharing the caseload. Fully knowledgeable of the Jumpolin saga, Judge Karin Crump granted the injunction in early March – essentially banning F&F Ventures from building on the site post-demolition. But the appointment of a second judge to preside over the injunction hearing put Jumpolin lawyers at a disadvantage in having to quickly re-educate Meachum on the vagaries of the case, Bernhard argued, though it is unclear what role that played in the lawyers failing to file documents properly.
Before the hearing took place, F&F seemed poised to work to resolve the issue. A Sept. 22 letter from F&F Ventures attorney Wallace M. Smith sought to avoid going to last week's hearing in the first place. "In an effort to avoid the hearing on plaintiff's motion for contempt and for sanctions and the related attorneys fees to be incurred by all parties, our clients will agree to ... relocate the trailer to south of the power pole between 1401 E. Cesar Chavez and 95 Navasota [the site of the Blue Cat Cafe]; remove the few feet of concrete slab poured to the north of the power pole; remove the loose cinder blocks and seating area situated to the north of the power pole; pay $1,750 in attorneys' fees...
"Please let me know if the foregoing is acceptable to avoid the need for a hearing," Smith wrote.
The Chronicle reached out to Smith inquiring whether any of those self-imposed, pre-hearing conditions would be honored despite the ruling's outcome. Smith didn't respond to the request for comment. Bernhard similarly demurred when asked about the aborted agreement.
In a telephone interview, Monica Lejarazu acknowledged it may have been a miscalculation not to accept the settlement terms, but she had believed all the motions had been filed properly all along. And she remains hopeful of eventual victory come December. "The truth is, I'm not too familiar with the laws, but I don't think it was because she was against what we were asking," she said of the judge's ruling. "She was in agreement and, in that sense, I feel good.
"I don't see a reason why we should lose, such is my confidence that what we are asking for is correct. I hope to win in December."