Michael Bishop was ready for his day in court against TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline, which is under construction in East Texas and approaching his homestead. The only trouble was – the court wasn’t ready.
By the time TransCanada attorneys and Bishop, the former Marine representing himself, showed up at the Nacogdoches County Court on December 19 to argue Bishop’s claim that TransCanada’s defrauding landowners like himself was enough to halt construction of the pipeline’s southern leg, Court at Law Judge Jack Sinz was already having second thoughts about his local court taking on a dispute with such large national, international, and global ramifications.
Judge Sinz had already stopped construction once, having granted Bishop an emergency injunction on December 7. But the judge then rescinded that order on December 13, after TransCanada’s attorneys asked for a special hearing at which to present additional information.
Over the weekend, apparently, Judge Sinz began to wonder if his court of limited jurisdiction actually had the authority to rule on the issues of property and land rights involved in blocking TransCanada from using its right of way for the pipeline.
At the abbreviated hearing, Sinz invited both sides — TransCanada with its attorneys and Bishop representing himself — to write legal briefs addressing the question of whether the case should be heard by a higher court, and to file those briefs in early January.
No Court Action to Prevent Irreparable Harm
Although he took no evidence at the hearing, Judge Sinz took no action to prevent irreparable harm to Bishop’s property. The judge allowed TransCanada to continue its pipeline construction unimpeded and Bishop fears that the pipeline will have crossed his 20-acre property before the courts decide whether it’s legal or not:
“They dumped gravel on my property today. They’ve got the pipe. They’re fixin’ to weld the pipe up. It’s about two miles down the road from me, three,” Bishop told StateImpact Texas.
“TransCanada may think they can keep delaying while their construction crews destroy my land, but they won’t shake me off so easily. I’ll continue fighting to win this case. And I’m suing the Texas Railroad Commission for letting TransCanada lie about what’s going through this pipe so they could use eminent domain to steal my land and my neighbors’ land.”
Bishop is seeking a jury trial on the question of TransCanada defrauding landowners and one of his supporters held up a sign saying: “YOUR LAND HAS THE RIGHT TO A JURY” while another supporter’s sign read: “TRANSCAN IS AFRAID OF A TEXAS JURY.”
The same day Bishop didn’t get his day in court, December 19, other Texans were being ignored by most of the members of the Sunset Commission meeting in Austin to consider whether to dissolve the Texas Railroad Commission that regulates oil pipelines and facilitated TransCanada’s eminent domain process when landowners weren’t quick enough to grant a right of way for the pipeline.
The absent Sunset Commissioners missed hearing citizens criticize the railroad commission for taking money from the industries it regulates, abusing the eminent domain process (especially in relation to TransCanada’s tar sands pipeline), and failure to take action against 98% of the violators of the laws the commission was supposed to enforce.
Bishop has also filed suit against the rail road commission on some of these same issues, but his case has not yet been scheduled for hearing.