Thursday, January 30, 2014
High Court Sends High-Speed Rail Case to Court of Appeal
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The California Supreme Court yesterday transferred the state’s appeal from two rulings involving its high-speed rail project to the Third District Court of Appeal.
The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, unanimously denied the Brown administration’s petition for writ of mandate, which would have placed the merits directly before the high court. Instead, they ordered that the case be expedited in the Court of Appeal.
Last week, the Department of Finance, the state treasurer and the California High-Speed Rail Authority petitioned the court to overturn two lower-court rulings that have stalled progress on the $68 billion bullet train project. They said rulings by a Sacramento Superior Court judge had crippled the government’s ability to function.
Judge Michael Kenny’s rulings late last year have prevented the state from selling $8.6 billion in voter-approved bonds needed to finance the first leg of construction in the Central Valley. Kenny also ordered the authority to rewrite its financing plan to explain how the state expects to pay for the first 300 miles of work, at a projected cost of $31 billion.
The rulings came in lawsuits filed by a group of Central Valley landowners who claimed the state failed to comply with the promises made to voters when they approved Proposition 1A in 2008 to authorize selling the bonds.
The high court yesterday gave the landowners until Monday to file their briefs, and gave the state a week after that to respond. An administration spokesperson said that was fine.
“The state wanted the court to hear this case quickly,” Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer told The Associated Press. “Today, the Supreme Court effectively granted that request by directing the Court of Appeal to consider our case in an expedited fashion.”
The state’s appeal to the Supreme Court casts the judge’s rulings as potentially devastating to the project and is at odds with repeated claims made by high-speed rail officials and the governor. After an unfavorable ruling in November, for example, rail authority Chief Executive Jeff Morales said addressing the concerns would not take long and that he did not think it would “have any material effect on the project.”
Resolving the legal tug-of-war in its favor is crucial to the Brown administration, which has been pushing the high-speed rail project even as public support for it has plummeted. The state is required to match part of the federal government’s contribution and needs access to the voter-approved bond money to do so.
The flow of federal money could come to a halt if the state fails to make a matching contribution of $180 million that is due in May. Construction on the first segment of what is supposed to be a 520-mile rail network has been delayed repeatedly and is now scheduled to begin sometime this spring.
In other conference action, the justices declined to hear Terry Childs’ appeal from his conviction for tampering with San Francisco’s municipal computer network.
The First District’s Div. Four last October affirmed Terry Childs’ conviction under Penal Code Sec. 502(c)(5), which makes it a crime to “[k]nowingly and without permission disrupt or cause the disruption of computer services or den[y] or cause the denial of computer services to an authorized user of a computer, computer system, or computer network.”
The panel rejected Childs’ contention that the statute was intended to apply only to hackers, not to an authorized user accused of accessing the system for a nefarious purpose.
Childs, who spent five years with the city as the principal engineer for the Department of Telecommunications and Information Services, was charged with locking up the network for about 12 days in 2008. Prosecutors presented evidence that he told a fellow worker that he had the “keys to the kingdom”—the passwords to the system’s switchers and routers, which he had unilaterally changed, making it impossible for the city to fire him or outsource his work.
They said Childs’ had reason to fear such consequences—he had failed to disclose a significant criminal record when he was hired. He eventually gave the passwords to then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, now the state’s lieutenant governor, during what one technology publication described as “a dramatic jailhouse visit.”
Childs claimed he was only trying to protect the system by limiting access to it.
He was sentenced to four years in state prison and ordered to pay more than $1.4 million in restitution.
The case is People v. Childs (2013) 220 Cal. App. 4th 1079.
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