Bullock's litigation reasonable; court criticism baseless

Editor's note: The Tidings published several articles regarding land use lawsuits against the City of Ashland brought by Art Bullock, a resident and principal party in all the suits. The following is part two of a two-part opinion regarding Art Bullock's legal challenges to the City of Ashland. The first part appeared in the Tidings on May 9.

One cannot be punished for simply losing a court action &

only for filing a frivolous claim, that is, without a reasonable basis. Two Jackson County Circuit judges have asserted that some of Bullock's filings were unreasonable. Perhaps the judges were swayed by the Tidings' reporting, or maybe just impatient with Bullock's turgid writing style. Bullock is a thorough researcher, but, not being a lawyer, he lacks the trained advocate's art of brevity. However, the record discloses that there was a reasonable factual and legal basis for Bullock's challenges.

1. Judge Arnold wrongly panned Bullock; Rightly denied sanction

Judge Philip Arnold stated that Bullock's second challenge to the Nevada Street LID was totally duplicative of the first, and therefore should not have been filed. Bullock argued &

reasonably in this writer's view &

that the second filing was not totally duplicative, that some challenges were new, either because they were ongoing violations of the rules, or because they arose after the first case. This ruling is on appeal. Despite the criticism, Judge Arnold denied the city's request for attorney's fees against Bullock, emphasizing that the court did not want to inhibit public interest advocates.

2. Judge Harris wrongly criticized and sanctioned Bullock

More recently, Judge Daniel L. Harris assessed attorney's fees against Bullock and Philip Lang for their challenges to the Park Street Apartments condominium conversion. In his ruling, Judge Harris asserted that the Bullock-Lang challenges were not reasonable and were made solely to delay and impede street development generally. But the Judge made no specific findings analyzing the challenges and explaining why they were unreasonable. There are a number of apparent errors in the judge's ruling, but I will address just two.

The Bullock-Lang challenges appear to be most reasonable. The developer applied for leave to convert thirty apartments to condominiums. The Planning Commission was informed that most of the thirty families would be evicted. Bullock argued that the families would be forced to leave Ashland, unable to find other affordable housing. Among other challenges, Bullock and Lang quite reasonably argued that such a conversion is contrary to state policy and to the city's commitment to the U.S. Department of Housing And Urban Development (HUD) to increase the supply of affordable rental housing for low and moderate income Ashland families.

In addition, Bullock and Lang contended that the developer could not invoke the city's statutory obligation to complete action on the conversion within a 120-day limit, because the developer had requested an extension of that limit. Judge Harris ruled that there was no "written request" for an extension, as the law requires. But, as Bullock and Lang argued, there is a video of the City Council meeting at which the developer consented to the extension. It is well established under Oregon law that a "writing" includes motion pictures, films, recordings, and videos. See, for example, Spence v. Rasmussen, 190 Or 662 (1951); ORS 2010 (46) ("Written includes any ... intentional reduction to tangible form."; Oregon's Public Records Law (ORS 192.410(6)) specifically defines "every means of recording" to be a "writing" for public records purposes). Even if Judge Harris's ruling to the contrary is upheld on appeal, there is no basis for holding that Bullock's arguments were unreasonable.

It is possible, but unlikely, that Judge Harris' grant of attorney's fees will prevail on appeal.

Conclusion: Art Bullock: Keep up the good work; Tidings: Do a better job

We, the public, can hope that Art Bullock will keep up his good work, undeterred by unfair Tidings reporting and by Judge Harris' erroneous Feb. 8 award of attorney's fees.

We can hope that the city will rein in the overzealous urge to pave all alleys and streets and "improve" existing streets against the majority votes of property owners suffering liens on their homes.

And we can hope that the Tidings will do a better job of carrying out the mission of journalism &

to report all the facts fully, fairly, and without favoritism.

is a retired, award-winning trial attorney who practiced law in Washington, D.C. for 40 years, including as Legal Director of the ACLU of D.C. from 1966-1980. He is currently active in Ashland affairs and the Oregon ACLU.

Share This Story