AUSTIN — A California attorney's assault on the Texas Open Beaches Act will face a stiff defense Tuesday from Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.
In a rare rehearing, the Texas Supreme Court will hear arguments for and against the Texas tradition of public beach access at 9 a.m. Following the conclusion of oral arguments, Patterson will be available to the news media at noon on the steps of the Supreme Court Building to take questions.
"Texas beaches have been open to the public since Texas was an independent Republic, and I'm not about to let any lawyer from California take that away from them," Patterson said. "I hope our Supreme Court won't either."
The case in question involves several houses on the beach that California divorce lawyer Carole Severance purchased in Galveston in 2005. After Hurricane Rita hit that summer, the General Land Office sent Severance a letter stating that her property was on the public beach and subject to removal under the Open Beaches Act. She was later offered up to $50,000 in public money to move each house off the beach. Instead, Severance sued, claiming the public's right to access the beach violated her constitutional rights. Several of her beach houses have since been purchased with taxpayer money by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but the case continues.
In November, the Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case that called into question the definition of the public beach easement, a key provision of the Texas Open Beaches Act. The Court ruled there is no longer a public beach easement on West Galveston Island.
The opinion also triggered a robust response from Texans defending the Open Beaches Act. Patterson filed a motion for rehearing and more than 20 briefs were filed supporting Patterson's motion from a diverse group of private citizens, coastal advocacy groups, chambers of commerce and coastal cities and counties. Only one brief was filed on Severance's behalf.
"Texans passed the Open Beaches Act more than 40 years ago, and voted overwhelmingly to put that right in our constitution in 2009," Patterson said. "Texans just don't give up the rights we have fought to earn."
WHO: Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson
WHAT: Media availability following arguments defending the Texas Open Beaches Act
WHEN: Noon, Tuesday, April 19, 2011
WHERE: On the steps of the Supreme Court Building, 2001 W. 14th Street, Austin, Texas
WHY: To defend public beach access in Texas