Couple weeks ago just before leaving town on vacation, I told you the city of Dallas won big and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs lost big in a settlement of the 5-year-old HUD complaint against the city for racial discrimination. Wouldn't you know, court papers were filed the day after I left town, making the win-lose picture a lot less black and white. So this is catch-up on that.
See also: Dallas Won. HUD lost. Oops
And here is an important hint: remember that Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings went out of his way after the settlement to offer near-blubbery thanks and praise to newly sworn HUD Secretary Julian Castro, up until recently the mayor of San Antonio, for his help getting Dallas off the hook.
Castro's only significant experience with HUD, before becoming head of it, was as the target of a HUD complaint for misspending HUD neighborhood stabilization money in 2012 . Maybe it's unsurprising that he came into office somewhat more favorably disposed toward accused mayors than toward HUD's own enforcement lawyers.
At any rate it's safe to say the Castro/Rawlings deal getting Dallas out of HUD's gun-sights was far more political than it was legal. An indication of that can be found buried in events leading up to the settlement: lawyers at HUD -- people who had spent four to five years preparing the case against Dallas -- caught wind of the fact that Castro was going to throw them under the bus. They discussed that fact with people here friendly to their cause, whom I cannot name. They were not happy.
If this had come down according to the lawyers, Dallas would still have a HUD bull's eye on its back. Instead, as is illustrated so clearly in Rawlings' remarks about Castro's help, Dallas was rescued by the political side of the HUD house. A win for Dallas any way you slice it? That's what I thought before I left. Now I'm less sure we can call this fight quite yet.
The meaning of Rawlings' remarks -- it was political not legal -- is echoed in court papers filed two weeks ago right after I left town by attorneys for Curtis Lockey and Craig McKenzie, the downtown tower developers who kicked this hornet's nest five years ago by accusing the city of deliberate racial segregation. They are back in federal court in Dallas asking Judge Reed O'Connor to let them amend a whistleblower lawsuit against the city.
Both O'Connor and an appeals court have tossed the suit in the past but left the door open for lawyers to amend it or file a brand-new lawsuit. In this new document (see it below), Lockey and McKenzie's lawyers point out that the accusation against Dallas is of racial segregation by intentional policy and conspiracy. That accusation has never been adjudicated on its merits.
There are two separate and distinct processes here: the HUD complaint against Dallas, which is administrative, and Lockey and MacKenzie's lawsuit, which is judicial. The HUD complaint, based on allegations from Lockey and MacKenzie, did get to the merits at one point: HUD lawyers looked at everything HUD's investigators had found in a probe of racial policies at Dallas City Hall and ruled that Dallas was guilty of everything Lockey and MacKenzie said it was. But those merits went in the toilet when Rawlings and Castro struck a political deal.
Lockey and MacKenzie's lawsuit was tossed out on technicalities before a judge or jury could even look at the merits. So this new filing is arguing that Lockey and MacKenzie's lawyers have fixed all the technical problems with the lawsuit. Now, they say, it would "further the ends of justice" to let the suit proceed on the merits.
O'Connor, who is leaving the Dallas bench to go to the federal bench in Fort Worth, can say no, in which case Lockey and MacKenzie will file a new suit and begin again with a new judge. Who might also toss them.
All I'm saying here is that so far Lockey and MacKenzie are still alive with their lawsuit; the only time anybody did look hard at the merits of their complaints, lawyers at HUD found Dallas overwhelmingly guilty; and we don't know yet if a jury may hear arguments on those same merits.
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By the by and as a footnote: everybody seems all focused now on President Obama's high-stakes high-visibility tilt toward Hispanics on immigration issues. That's all cool, but this Dallas racial discrimination matter is another smaller less visible straw in the wind, too.
There's no way the new secretary of HUD made his own enforcement division look like chumps without some kind of review from over his head, and there ain't too many people over the heads of cabinet secretaries. I don't know what that means. That's over my own head. Maybe it just means the man picks his battles.