"TxDOT is waging a one-sided political ad campaign designed to sway public opinion in favor of the policy that puts money in TxDOT's own coffers."
By William Gest
The Daily Texan
A lawsuit seeking an injunction against a Texas Department of Transportation-funded advertising campaign that promotes toll roads will continue after a ruling Thursday.
State District Judge Orlinda Naranjo granted the plaintiff's request for continuance and a new hearing in 90 days, ending TxDOT's hopes for quick dismissal of the case, but delaying an injunction for at least that long.
The lawsuit was filed in September by Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, an organization that opposes toll road expansion in Texas. Terri Hall, founder and director of the organization, said that toll roads amount to taxation by private, unaccountable corporations and that TxDOT has refused to consider transportation alternatives.
"The tactics that they are pushing will continue to be privately funded toll roads," she said.
The organization alleges that TxDOT has illegally used public funds to pay for its "Keep Texas Moving" campaign.
"TxDOT is waging a one-sided political ad campaign designed to sway public opinion in favor of the policy that puts money in TxDOT's own coffers," Hall said.
Hall cited Chapter 556 of the Texas Government Code, which prohibits state agencies from using public funding for political advocacy.
Kristina Silcox, attorney for TxDOT, argued that the ad campaign is a public education effort and is fully legal under a different law, Section 228.004 of the Transportation Code, which specifically allows for the marketing of toll projects.
Thursday's ruling follows a Sept. 24 hearing in which Naranjo denied the group's request for a temporary restraining order that would have halted the campaign.
Hall's attorney Charles Riley said Thursday's ruling would allow time to amass evidence confirming the illegality of TxDOT's actions.
"This allows us to get into TxDOT's memorandums to show that this campaign is purely political," Riley said.
Though the campaign continues, Hall called the ruling a victory for taxpayers.
"The state wanted us thrown out of court," she said. "The case is being kept alive."
© 2007 The Daily Texan:
TURF Awarded More Time In Fight Against TxDOT
Judge Says TURF Has 90 Days To Prepare Case
October 18, 2007
SAN ANTONIO -- A San Antonio mom who waged war on the Texas Department of Transportation and toll roads has been given a little more time to put together a case against TxDOT.
The ruling was made Thursday in an Austin courtroom.
The group heading up this movement is called Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, or TURF.
They've been fighting TxDOT on all aspects of toll roads for years, citing everything from environmental concerns to, in this case, claims that TxDOT used taxpayer dollars to fund a pro-toll-road ad campaign.
On Thursday, a judge was set to make a ruling on whether to file an injunction based on those claims, but instead, TURF's attorney, Charles Riley, asked the judge for a continuance or a postponement.
Riley said TURF has uncovered more evidence to back up its allegations, and he said he wants a little time to get it all together.
"We've uncovered a number of e-mails and internal documents of TxDOT that clearly show this is a political campaign targeting certain audiences to try and turn the public in favor of toll road policy," Riley said.
"We're just delighted the judge is willing to hear our arguments and give us a fair shot," TURF spokeswoman Terri Hall said.
TxDOT's attorneys did fight that request, but the judge ruled in TURF's favor and set another hearing date for 90 days from Thursday.
© 2007 KSAT.com:
Judge Grants Anti-Toll Road Group More Time
Oct 18, 2007
Clear Channel Inc.
A judge in Austin granted an anti-toll road group more time to make their case against the Texas Department of Transportation during a hearing Thursday.
The group Texans United For Reform and Freedom, or TURF, filed a lawsuit against the TxDOT, claiming the state agency had violated the law by using tax dollars to promote toll roads.
Thursday's hearing at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin was fairly short but to the point.
The attorneys for TURF were hoping to get a little more time to research the allegations of illegal lobbying and use of taxpayer money to fund TxDOT's toll road advertisements. The ads are part of the agency's "Keep Texas Moving" campaign, which stresses the need for toll roads.
While the state argues current laws make it perfectly legal for toll roads to be built in San Antonio, TURF argues the campaign is political and shouldn't be.
The judge didn't rule on the allegations, but granted a continuance. The judge's move is considered a small victory for TURF.
News 4 tried to catch up with the state's attorneys, but they declined to comment.
TURF was given a 90-day continuance, meaning both sides are due back in court in January.
© 2007 Clear Channel Broadcasting, Inc.
Group Given Time To Prove Suit Against Toll Road Campaign
Oct 18, 2007
An Austin judge has given a group more time to prove its lawsuit against the Texas Department of Transportation's toll road campaign.
Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, or TURF, said the Keep Texas Moving campaign is political, and the law does not allow TxDOT to use taxpayer dollars to advocate public policy.
The Office of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the campaign is informational and well within its reach.
Judge Orlinda Naranjo on Thursday gave the plaintiffs a 90-day continuance for fact finding.
"We've already uncovered some internal memos," said Charles Riley, the plaintiff's attorney. "And we want to be able to ask the people who wrote those memos what exactly they're talking about when they say, 'We're gonna target this area to change people's minds. We're gonna discredit the adversaries.'"
Riley said the next step is to depose individuals involved with this campaigning.
Kristina Silcocks, who represents TxDOT from the attorney general's office, did not want to speak on camera.
© 2007 WorldNow and KXAN
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