Bay Area attorneys doing battle against California's high-speed train project in the central San Joaquin Valley offered a look at the legal intricacies of the system Tuesday with Fresno's legal community.
Attorney Michael Brady of Redwood City, San Mateo lawyer Andrew Turner and Jason Holder, an attorney from Oakland, addressed high-speed rail litigation for the Fresno County Bar Association's Bench, Bar & Media program. Brady and Holder have already butted heads with the California High-Speed Rail Authority in lawsuits. Turner represents farmers and others concerned about eminent domain condemnation of property for the statewide rail project.
Brady represents Kings County and two of its residents in a lawsuit alleging that the authority's plan violates Proposition 1A, the $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond measure approved by California voters in 2008.
"If we're successful … the project is dead," said Brady. "It will never be built."
A Sacramento Superior Court judge heard one phase of the Kings County suit at the end of May and has until Aug. 30 to issue a ruling. The suit hinges on whether the rail project conforms with Prop. 1A in its environmental review, financial footing, or requirements of speed or travel time set forth in the ballot measure.
Holder's clients, including the Farm Bureaus in Madera and Merced counties, earlier this year settled their lawsuit against the authority over environmental approval of the Merced-Fresno section.
The lawsuit, he said, served as leverage to ensure that the rail agency would fully make up for the effects of the rail route on farmland along the route.
For owners of property that will be needed for rights of way for the rail route, "just compensation" will be the biggest issue if they cannot agree on a purchase price with the rail agency, said Turner, the eminent domain lawyer.
Compensation involves not only the value of the property, but in cases where only part of a parcel is needed, "severance" damage is also considered. Those factors can include odd-shaped leftover parcels that are difficult to farm, the effects of railway operations on the remaining property, limited access, relocation, irrigation and water rights, and many others. "I expect this is where a lot of differences of opinion will occur," Turner said.
If the rail authority resorts to eminent domain, it triggers a rigorous process in which compensation is ultimately settled by a jury trial in the county where the property is. Based on his experience, Turner said such trials can take at least a year and possibly up to two years.
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