Standing With Julia: Courts Trample Landowners Rights, Again

(Sam Craft/The Paris News/Associated Press)

A 15-word ruling arrived in North Texas Landowner Julia Crawford’s email inbox last night at 7:47 p.m. from Lamar County Judge Bill Harris. He wrote:

Dear Counsel,

My rulings as follows:

Transcanada’s MSJ is GRANTED
Transcanada’s NEMSJ is GRANTED
Crawford’s Plea to the Jurisdiction is DENIED

This note was sent from Washington D.C. on Harris’ iphone, and just like his ruling, the court case reflects the nonchalance and impersonal nature to matters that affect the health and safety of entire families, and the kangaroo court that he clearly established with his text-message ruling.

Julia Crawford is one of the few Texas landowners that never signed one of TransCanada’s contractual agreements–holding out against blatant intimidation tactics that so many landowners have said subjected them to sign-on to TransCanada’s shady dealings.

“We may have lost this battle here in Paris, Texas, but we are far from done,” Crawford says. “I will continue to proudly stand up for my own personal rights, the property rights of my family and those of other Texans fighting to protect their land.”

Crawford’s challenge to TransCanada’s “common carrier” status was backed up by a recent Texas Supreme Court case Texas Rice Land vs. Denbury Green, but Judge Harris clearly ignored what should have been a precedent-setting ruling.

Common carrier status is is granted by the Texas Railroad Commission, and allows corporations the power to seize private property through eminent domain. Common carrier status usually denotes that a project is in the public interest, and in Texas all that means is that TransCanada grants other companies and firms use of its pipeline–if they meet certain requirements of course.

All TransCanada had to do to apply for common carrier status was simply fill out a government form for a permit, known as the T-4 form, and check a box labeled ‘common carrier’.

In the Denbury Green decision the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the T-4 permit granted by the Railroad Commission does not conclusively establish eminent-domain power.

“The Texas Supreme Court was clear in Denbury that private companies have to prove their project qualifies as a true ‘public use’ before it can exercise eminent domain. We’re disappointed in the Judge’s decision, but we’re confident that the Crawford’s will eventually prevail.” said Terri Hall, Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. “The time for talk is over. Texans are losing their land because of poor oversight and the legislature’s refusal to address the heart of the problem. Texans aren’t going to accept the crumbs we’ve been handed, cloaked as eminent domain reform. It’s time to get serious before irreparable harm is needlessly inflicted upon Texans.”

Many landowners in Texas consider the fact that the Keystone XL will primarily be an export pipeline enough to prove that the project does not have the best interest of the general Texas public in mind. The pipeline will carry tar sands from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Port Arthur, Tex. to be sold on the global market to the highest bidder.

The Texas Railroad Commission states that it has no regulatory authority to make sure private companies don’t abuse eminent domain power.

“Judge’s Harris disappointing decision today further highlights the vulnerable and precarious position that Texas landowners are in” said Debra Medina, former Republican candidate for Governor and Tea Party activist.

What’s more is Judge Harris enjoys a cozy relationship with TransCanada’s legal team that should be grounds for dismissal of his ruling altogether. Witnesses arriving early to a court hearing told Tar Sands Blockade that Judge Harris invited TransCanada’s legal team into a side room in the court where they could hear them laughing and visiting for quite awhile.

Witnesses also said they were treated poorly in Harris’ courtroom overall, with no seating provisions for them, many of Julia’s dedicated supporters were forced to sit on the floor, and threatened for merely moving around in the courtroom.

Harris’ predisposition toward the Crawford family becomes even more clear as he continually ridiculed her as an “activist” throughout the court case.

This display is part of a much larger strategy on the part TransCanada to influence the legal system in its favor. TransCanada public relations officials have been softening up East Texas County officials for years before Crawford’s case went to court.

Crawford is vowing to keep her battle for property rights alive and Tar Sands Blockade continues to stand with her in the pursuit of real justice for landowners.

Tar Sands Blockade will not stand by while landowner’s rights are being abused for private, corporate projects or sit idly by as Texas elected officials ignore their constituents because they have been bought and paid for by Big Oil.

It’s clear that the legal system has failed us. It’s time for a better solution to the crisis we find ourselves in. With every other recourse exhausted, Tar Sands Blockade is stepping in to support landowners where the courts and elected officials will not.

Construction has begun on the southern leg of the Keystone XL, and we’re launching a series of rolling actions in response. Join us in protecting landowners with civil disobedience and take our power back from a system stacked against us.


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