Tag Archives: Robert Leon

Hogan Smears Federal Judge to Hide State’s Lack of Transparency

Spreading Lies

Larry Hogan joined in the attacks of the most extreme Purple Line supporters in accusing U.S. District Court Judge Robert Leon of being conflicted in the case.  As Bethesda Beat reported:

Hogan, who discussed the project with U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao during a meeting last month, said the $900 million can’t be “shaken loose” because of Leon’s alleged conflicts.

“Secretary Chao can’t do anything about a judge whose wife happens to be involved in an opponent group and who has a conflict of interest who’s making a decision to hold this up,” Hogan said.

However, there is no real evidence of the claim that Judge Leon’s wife is involved beyond her membership in a citizens association that has opposed the project:

Christine Leon, the judge’s wife, has been a block captain for Andover Road for the Brookdale Citizens Association since at least 2005, according to documents posted on the associations’ website. The association is part of the Citizens Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights, which testified against the Purple Line in 2008 during a public hearing hosted by the state and submitted written testimony on stationery that noted the group was “representing the Citizens Associations of Brookdale, Chevy Chase Village” and other nearby communities. There’s no evidence that Christine Leon personally lobbied against the project.

One can only imagine the cries of sexism that would have emerged from Purple Line Now if the judge had ruled the other way and Purple Line opponents accused him of a conflict. Hogan went to spread a bizarre outright lie:

“But even with federal funding, we can’t move forward because of a judge who lives at a Chevy Chase country club,” Hogan noted.

Leon’s house is actually about 3 miles from Columbia Country Club in the Brookdale neighborhood of Chevy Chase.

Of course, Greater Greater Washington joined in the smear.

Lack of Transparency or Responsiveness

If the State thought there was a real conflict, they would have brought it up before the case was heard. As it stands, these sour grapes look designed to cover up the State’s total lack of transparency or responsiveness regarding the question of ridership raised in the judge’s decision.

Specifically, the judge wanted to know how the steady decline in Metro’s ridership will impact estimated ridership on the Purple Line. As is well known, Metro ridership has been affected by its chronic problems along with the rise of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft as well as telecommuting.

The State’s response to the judge’s concern was not to present any analysis but instead to thumb its nose at the court and declare such an analysis unnecessary. The claim of the unimportance of transfers directly contradicts the State’s own website, which highlights as a major benefit that the light rail “Connects to Metrorail Green and Orange lines and both branches of the Red Line.” Oops.

The State’s failure to respond to Judge Leon is a continuation of its total lack of transparency on how the ridership figures were calculated. MTA has consistently refused to divulge critical information about how the ridership numbers were calculated by Parsons Brinckerhoff. Call it a faith-based initiative.

Frankly, I have little expertise as to the legal or substantive merits of judge’s decision. I’m not a lawyer let alone an expert in environmental law. Nor do I know Judge Leon or anything about his record. But leaving legal questions entirely aside, why is the State so desperate that it must demean the court? Why has the State stonewalled and hidden the critical ridership analysis? If the Purple Line is so great, why not reveal all?

Why the secrecy?

Federal Court Rules Against Purple Line

Today, D.C. District Court Judge Richard Leon issued his opinion in the case challenging the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the Purple Line light-rail project. The nub of the ruling is that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) was “arbitrary and capricious” in its failure to demand a reexamination of the impact of declining Metro ridership on projections of future Purple Line ridership.

In plainer English, the judge thinks that Metro’s continuing failures could well mean that the Purple Line will carry significantly fewer people than projected–a claim difficult to examine as the State has kept the methodology for estimating ridership a closely held secret.

In the legal battle, the State argued unconvincingly that the Purple Line is unaffected by Metro as it is a different mode even as it claimed in the EIS that the Purple Line is needed to connect people to Metro. Seriously, this was the State’s claim (see p. 6 of the opinion).

The ruling was a surprise because winning a case under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is difficult.  As the Court mentioned in the opinion, the scope of review is “narrow” and “a court is not to substitute its judgment for that of the agency.”

According to the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA), this result should delay the Purple Line:

[D]uring a June 15 hearing in the case, lawyers for the MTA and federal government said redoing the ridership forecasts would push back the project by six months and could unravel its $5.6-billion, 36-year public-private partnership.

In a subsequent court filing, lawyers for the Maryland Attorney General’s Office said having to redo the ridership forecasts “would be profoundly disruptive and could jeopardize the Purple Line project” because it could “have cascading consequences on the project schedule and financing arrangements.”

As MTA has so many times, I suspect it will change its tune in light of the decision and come up with an SEIS more quickly, so I doubt very much it will kill the project. Nevertheless, the irony remains that the proponents favor the project on environmental grounds. Yet the Court has delayed the Purple Line for failure to comply with environmental law.

To be continued.