2017 | Transportation

Hogan Requests Legal Maneuver To Compel Purple Line Judge To Make Decision in Ongoing Lawsuit

Governor warns further delays will cost Maryland millions of dollars

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Gov. Larry Hogan announces plans to move forward with the Purple Line in June 2015

Bethesda Beat file photo

Updated – 11:59 a.m., Friday – Gov. Larry Hogan is trying to force the federal judge overseeing the ongoing Purple Line lawsuit to issue a ruling in the case.

On Thursday, Hogan sent a letter to Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh directing him to file a “writ of mandamus” in the case.  Hogan said in the letter that both he and state Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn have concluded the legal maneuver is necessary “on behalf of the citizens of Maryland, to take action to force U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon to make a decision in the Purple Line litigation pending before him.”

Previously, the state had requested that Leon issue a decision by April 28—a deadline that passed without a ruling.

The U.S. Department of Justice describes a writ of mandamus as “an extraordinary remedy, which should only be used in exceptional circumstances of peculiar emergency or public importance.”

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, a former law professor, said Thursday that the maneuver would ask the Court of Appeals to mandate that the judge issue a ruling.

“It’s a very difficult challenge,” Leggett said. “But given the amount of resources at stake and the difficultness that this delay creates, I guess the governor is looking at that and saying we’re getting to the point where we need to take drastic actions even though it’s challenging to be successful.”

Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner said the request would ask the court to do its duty.

“[The state] is not asking for a ruling in their favor,” Berliner said Thursday. “They’re just saying you have a duty as a judge to rule. Any ruling would allow us to appeal and get on with our business.”

Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for Frosh, said the writ of mandamus would be filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, although when it will be filed has not yet been determined.

The letter is the latest salvo in the long-running lawsuit that was filed in 2014. In August, Leon vacated the federal approval for the 16.2-mile light-rail project after agreeing with the plaintiffs in the case—Town of Chevy Chase residents John Fitzgerald and Christine Real de Azua and the trail advocacy group Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail—that Metro’s recent safety issues and ridership decline could negatively impact the Purple Line. He later asked the Maryland and Federal Transit administration to provide him with information about the impact Metro’s issues would have on the Purple Line.

In December, the agencies responded with data they said showed that Metro’s woes would not significantly impact ridership on the line that would extend east to west from Bethesda to New Carrollton.

Leon’s August decision has delayed construction of the line, which was set to start late last year, and prevented the state from securing about $900 million in federal funds to help pay for construction.

“The State of Maryland stands to lose several million dollars because of this delay,” Hogan wrote in the letter. Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for the governor, later said Thursday the state stands to lose "hundreds of millions of dollars" due to the delays.

Previously, state officials wrote in court documents that the state would lose about $13 million per month due to construction delays.

The project is estimated to cost more than $2 billion to construct and about $5.6 billion over the state’s 36-year contract with the private team of finance and construction companies that will design, build, operate and maintain the light-rail line.

Last month, Hogan publicly criticized Leon by saying the judge may have a conflict of interest in the case. Hogan’s office pointed to connections between the judge and a Chevy Chase country club that had long opposed the project as well as to a neighborhood group to which his wife belonged. The neighborhood group was part of a larger group that opposed the project. However, there’s no evidence Leon or his wife has ever personally opposed the Purple Line.

Berliner said Leon is being unfair by not issuing a ruling.

“Everything he needs to rule has been filed with him and the consequences of not ruling are significant,” Berliner said. “This is not fair and this is not justice.”

The post was updated to include information from the state's Attorney General's office.