Oral arguments scheduled in Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for airport lawsuit

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Lawmakers hoping to block the city of Jackson’s efforts to determine motives behind the state’s takeover of the Jackson Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport will soon have their day in court.

Oral arguments are slated for June 10, in the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in downtown Jackson.

At the heart of the matter is whether state lawmakers have to turn over private communications related to SB 2162, the airport takeover bill.

The bill was passed by the legislature and signed by the governor in 2016. It wrests control of the airport from the capital city and places it under the purview of a regional board made up of local and state appointees.

City and airport officials claim the state’s motives are based on race. Senators deny this, saying the move is strictly about airport management.

The airport is owned by Jackson, a majority-black city and currently is operated by the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority (JMAA), a five-member board made up of individuals appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council.

Currently, all five appointees are African-American.

SB 2162 was authored by Sens. Josh Harkins, Dean Kirby, Philip Moran, Chris Caughman and Nickey Browning, a cohort of white Republicans.

To determine motives, attorneys for the city and JMAA have asked lawmakers to turn over all correspondence related to the bill’s passage. Last year, U.S. District Court Magistrate Keith Ball ruled that all related communications between lawmakers and third parties had to be turned over, but correspondence strictly between the senators could be sealed.

For that correspondence, though, senators had to provide a “privilege log,” stating what information was not being released.

The matter was appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court.

Meanwhile, a separate suit rages on in the lower district court.

There, airport attorneys are hoping to depose Joey Songy, chief of staff for Gov. Phil Bryant.

JMAA attorneys argue that Songy’s testimony is needed, because the governor’s designee in the case, a deputy chief of staff, couldn’t answer questions about Songy’s actions.

JMAA moved to question Songy, as well as Bryant’s policy advisors, Bobby Morgan and Alice Perry.

 

The request to grant those depositions was upheld by Magistrate Keith Ball.

Bryant appealed Ball’s decision to the Fifth Circuit, asking the higher court to block JMAA’s depositions, but the writ of mandamus was denied.

Mandamus is brought against a single judge or magistrate, with the appellant arguing the judge’s decision was a mistake.

Briefs have been filed in that case, but no decision on how to move forward with a deposition had been made at press time.

 

 

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