TRWD board member seeking more records, depositions

Marice Richter

Business Press Special Correspondent

Tarrant Regional Water District Board Member Mary Kelleher has begun legal action in her continuing effort to obtain documents detailing business operations at the agency.

Kelleher has filed a petition in district court in Tarrant County seeking to depose key TRWD officials and force them to turn over an extensive list of documents.

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Since taking office last June, the month after she was elected to the five-member board, Kelleher has pressed for documents that she says she needs to review as part of her responsibility as a board member.

“They have turned over a ton of documents but most of it is junk,” said her lawyer, Matt Hill of Rockwall. “We didn’t want to have to take this to court but we feel this is the only way we can get them to produce the documents that they are required to produce.”

Hill said the court filing, called a 202 petition, is “uncommon” but is being used more and more often. It is familiar to lawyers but less so to the public. It is most often used in insurance fraud cases.

The petition asks a judge to order depositions of top executives and others with access to water district information and to require them to produce the documents requested.

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“My goal is to get the records,” Kelleher said. “I don’t want to have to file a lawsuit but I will if they don’t do the right thing.”

The TRWD had not seen the court filing as of Monday.

“TRWD has not yet been served, so the District cannot comment at this time,” TRWD attorney Lee Christie said on Monday.

Kelleher’s petition is just the latest of several legal actions taken against the TRWD in the past year.

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Dallas businessman Monty Bennett sued the water district in March, alleging that the district violated Texas Open Meeting Laws by approving a contract to build a $2.3 billion water pipeline that would cross his East Texas ranch because the decision was made without meaningful public discussion.

Two other lawsuits, including one filed last week, challenge the TRWD’s decision to postpone the 2014 water board election until 2015 and extend the terms of board members Jim Lane and Marty Leonard an extra year.

The other suit was filed by John Basham, an outspoken critic of the water board and unsuccessful candidate for the board last May. The suit is pending in state district court in Tarrant County.

The suit filed last week, by the Rev. Kyev Tatum and his family, claims that the TRWD is denying their right to vote. The suit is pending in federal court.

Last year, the Texas Legislature passed a bill changing the TRWD election from even-number to odd-number years and the water board in turn extended the terms of Lane and Leonard, which would have expired this year. Matt Rinaldi, attorney for Basham and Tatum, argued that the extensions were illegal.

TRWD attorneys are seeking to dismiss the three suits.

“The TRWD Board has strictly complied with all state and federal laws governing the election process, including the Legislature’s recently passed bill, which requires elections in odd-numbered years,” Christie said.

The water district has appealed an unfavorable lower court ruling in the Bennett lawsuit. A district judge ruled against the TRWD’s move to dismiss the suit.