Thursday, June 08, 2006

Absurd Delays

This morning's Advocate brings disturbing news. Apparently Judge Rubin has little respect for either the law he is charged to interpret or for the will of the people of his community.

It is difficult to come up with any rational or half-rational explanation for the more than two month delay he imposes on hearing the bond issue associated with the LUS fiber to the home project. State law is very clear on what it charges a judge to do in reviewing lawsuits that attempt to stop the issue of bonds like ours. The article does a good job of laying it out.
Such bond validation lawsuits are governed by a special part of state law that sets out certain deadlines for such suits to be heard...

In passing the bond validation statute, the Legislature said its intent was to “provide a uniform, expeditious and equitable procedure” to settle whether a bond issuance complies with the law.

After a bond validation suit is filed, the Legislature set a number of deadlines that require a hearing on the matter within a month.

Judges are told in the statute to render a final judgment “with the least possible delay.”

The statute requires a judge to rule within 10 days “to the extent possible and practicable under the circumstances” once the hearing is “concluded.”

The law allows for a judge to make “such adjournments as will enable him properly to try and determine” questions of law and fact.

Had the hearing concluded May 22, the 10th day of the deadline for a final ruling would have been June 1.

It's absurd.

There is a very good reason for the state to expedite such cases: interfering with the bonding process and tying it up in endless delay is a way for those who can afford such shenanigans to block the express will of the people. Without a law mandating all possible speed wealthy opponents of perfectly legal community decisions settled by a vote of the people's representatives could delay action endlessly. --Disgruntled losers could block the sale of bonds to fund roads, for instance, extorting the city with demands that the road pass by their land or have the sort of greenspace amenities they thought suitable.

But in this case it isn't merely representatives of our will that are thwarted. What is being casually ignored is a direct vote of the people of this community. Their will was expressed clearly on July 26th of last year when we voted 62 to 28% to approve a bond issue to pay for our fiber to the home project.

The bond issue that Rubin has to decided is a narrow point of law. It does not, repeat does not, involve him learning any of the weird new technologies of telecommunications. It is a legal issue: may the plaintiffs entangle a bond issue based on future revenue with their claim that it, somehow, would endanger their clients ability to get money off the city based on the fact that the city returns money to Lafayette Consolidated Government in the form of in lieu of tax (ILOT) payments years ago. This is not new law, nor does it call on new law, nor do either the bond validation issues or the legal history of ILOT lack for ample precident. All a judge like Rubin needs to do is to sit down and do the work he is trained to do and which the law requires him to do quickly.

The law is eminently reasonable. Judges put themselves, and the law, in a perilous position when they use their necessary power to interpret the law to evade the clearly stated intent of laws that come before them. The people of the city deserve better.

Oh, by the way, don't give up in disgust before you reach the final paragraphs. There is some more painful amusement there. Apparently this case has already spawned three appeals before it has really been heard by any judge. One of them is an appeal of the dismissal of a case that was dismissed because the plaintiffs had already gotten what they were asking for. No matter, technically the case went against them so they could appeal. And did. This is all about manufacturing the basis for delay.

Both the judge's delay nor the plaintiffs' attempts at it have serious consequences. It is looking like the Feds will raise interest rates again soon. Since the delaying tactics began interest rates have gone from a level that was an historic low to one that is relatively high. That means that the delays have already cost the people of Lafayette millions of dollars in interest. The current moves come at a time when they will impose yet greater costs.

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