It's been almost six months now since Jubilee Park residents began protesting the Dallas Independent School District's plans to seize their businesses and homes by any means necessary to make way for a new O.M. Roberts Elementary. In that time there have been countless protests and meetings, and only recently was there some indication that all those signs and all that shouting had amounted to anything: On August 12 the district told Pat Berry, owner of Vickery Wholesale Greenhouse, that it no longer intended to condemn his business.
But what of the homeowners, those lifelong Jubilee Park residents to whom the district offered pennies on the dollar for their homes lest they run the risk of being eminent-domained out of existence?
Late Monday, a handful of them received their own reprieve: Mark Mathie, a principal in the Dallas office of McKool Smith, tells Unfair Park this afternoon that late Monday, he received a letter from the DISD indicating that it's "dismissing eminent domain proceedings" against four homeowners, among them Shawn Busari and Agustina Del Rio. But that, reminds Mathie, amounts to only half of the homeowners whose property the district snapped up when they were threatened with eminent domain. This, says Mathie -- who took the case pro bono in April -- is an incomplete victory at best.
"It's not over yet," he says. "But I am very happy for the clients whose suits have been dismissed. Very happy. Now there's an issue with regard to what the school district is going to do with the school and parking lots and what, if anything, it'll do the economic value of the properties that have been spared, and to that extent it may not be over. But we've done well. It's rare you beat these guys, but we did it."
I asked Mathie: What made him take the homeowners' cases at no charge?
"I took them because the matter was brought to my attention [by one of the families involved], and I felt they had a worthy cause, and they obviously couldn't afford my services," he says. "Then I found out more about the neighborhood, so we formed an effort to represent the others. I believed in it. I believed they had a right to representation and a right have their rights property handled by a lawyer and not just bulldozed because they didn't speak English and might not have been as sophisticated in terms of understanding what eminent domain is. They were getting lowballed on the offers and couldn't afford to move. I just felt the case was just.
"But it's not over. We have remaining clients we need to deal with. It's not over with regard to them, and we'll see what the district's plans are with regards to the four whose homes they thus far have spared."
District officials will not comment on pending litigation and issues dealing with property.