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El Paso's ballpark hearing in Austin fizzles

By Matthew Smith
Published On: Feb 04 2013 12:17:24 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 06 2013 12:34:44 PM CST

ABC-7s Matthew Smith reports.

AUSTIN, Texas -

A major twist in the declaratory judgement hearing in Austin tied to the Downtown El Paso ballpark project left people on both sides of the issue scratching their heads Monday morning.

Two men, Carl Starr and Salvador Gomez, traveled to Austin for the hearing in an attempt to stop the ballpark from being built, and allow for a vote on the ballpark.  Meanwhile, attorneys representing the City of El Paso and a number of staff were present.

The hearing was set earlier this month and was meant to determine the legality of the City of El Paso's actions which led to agreements with MountainStar Sports to build a Downtown ballpark on the current site of City Hall.

The hearing could have allowed the City to move forward with the ballpark timeline with fewer legal issues, or stop the process if the judge favors the group intervening with the City of El Paso's plan.

Starr and Gomez were among the intervenors in the action.  The men, along with others who had filed lawsuits tied to the matter, were expected to fight for their cause.

Instead, everyone learned that Jesus B. Ochoa, another person fighting the destruction of City Hall, had not arrived.  In fact, Ochoa filed paperwork in El Paso's Federal Court asking for his suit to be removed from the consolidated effort,  blind-siding those who had traveled more than eight hours to fight for their cause in Austin's 353rd District Court.
 
Starr told the court he wouldn't fight anything that strengthened his case but said that he did not consent for Ochoa to act on behalf of his portion of the consolidated lawsuit.
 
"Looks like you're all dressed up for the party, and somebody called the cops," said Sulak, telling lawyers from both sides that his courtroom wouldn't be able to continue with the scheduled hearing until matters are settled in the Western District Federal Court.
 
Lowell Denton, an attorney representing the City, told ABC-7 that he believes there are issues with the filing in federal court that stalled Monday's hearing.

Denton said they would likely have filings ready within the day, adding that he was disappointed that so many people's time was wasted without anyone telling those involved that something like this could unfold.

Sulak on Jan. 31 granted the City of El Paso's motion to consolidate two lawsuits pending in El Paso into the City's bond validation lawsuit pending before the Travis County District Court.

The bond validation action seeks to confirm the City's authority to construct the Downtown Ballpark at the site currently occupied by City Hall and to finance the project with the hotel occupancy tax approved by the voters in November.

At Jan. 31's hearing on the motion to consolidate, Ochoa, who is a plaintiff in two separate lawsuits challenging the Ballpark project pending in El Paso, appeared to oppose consolidation, according to City officials.

Sulak determined that a suit pending in the 41st District Court in El Paso, in which Ochoa seeks to prevent the City from taking action on the ballpark project, should be consolidated with the City's bond validation lawsuit and resolved on the expedited timeframe permitted by the statute under which the suit was brought by the City.

Sulak also consolidated a lawsuit pending in County Court at Law No. 5 in El Paso, which also seeks to delay the ballpark project.

Sulak did not consolidate Ochoa's lawsuit in County Court at Law No. 6 in El Paso after he determined that the case did not seek an injunction with regards to the actions the City seeks to have validated, according to City officials.

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