A chief federal judge rebuked several government lawyers during a hearing on Wednesday, December 20, for seeking delays in a flooding lawsuit. According to the Houston Chronicle, more than 1,500 Houstonians are suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for building their homes inside of the floodplains of Houston’s dams.
During the initial hearing to schedule court dates for the lawsuit, government lawyers sought to delay the case for up to a year to enable them to look for documents. Chief Judge Susan G. Braden of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, who is overseeing the case, condemned the lawyers.
“What has been proposed to the court, frankly, is insulting,” said Chief Judge Braden. “It’s insulting to the people in this community; it’s insulting to the president of the United States, and it is unbefitting to those representing the Attorney General. And it shows no respect for the role of the judiciary.”
Chief Judge Braden, who was appointed to the federal bench in 2003 by President George W. Bush, was named chief judge by President Donald Trump in March 2017.
The hearing was to set a date for the lawsuit wherein thousands of Houstonians were allegedly uninformed about their homes’ location inside the flood area of Houston’s dams. After Hurricane Harvey hit, up to 30,000 suburban homes and businesses built within the lakebeds of Houston’s dams fell victim to the dams’ flooding.
Houston isn’t alone in its hazardous dam conditions. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, approximately 4,095 dams are unsafe. And while swimming may be the 4th most popular sport in America, the amount of flooding that may result from the breaking of these dams would be downright disastrous.
The Houston Chronicle reports that government officials were aware of the flooding dangers when they built the homes in the lake beds but failed to inform home buyers. As a result, Houstonians are suing the government for taking their land without compensation.
Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Environment and Natural Resources Division, Jeffery H. Wood, argued that the U.S. Justice Department would need time to search for evidence due to the department 7,000 other cases. Additionally, he said the Corps of Engineers is occupied with hurricane relief efforts.
Chief Judge Braden countered saying, based on previous cases, the number of documents explaining the Corps’ role in Hurricane Harvey’s dam operations was most likely in two filing drawers. The Houston flooding lawsuit, she and other federal judicial colleagues said, should be resolved within two years.
One attorney representing the Houstonians has already collected and disclosed up to 25 documents belonging to the Corps of Engineers related to the dam operations and flood pools. Thousands of properties were damaged downstream of the Addicks and Barker dams and more than 9,000 were damaged upstream.
Regarding the request for a delay, Chief Judge Braden said, “It took the Army Corps of Engineers a few minutes to make a decision to open dams that left people without homes and without property.”