Filing of briefs continue in state’s attempt to take control of Jackson airport

By ANTHONY WARREN,

More briefs are coming in the Jackson airport takeover case, about two months after the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals handed the state a loss.

Attorneys had held a conference call recently with a Mississippi Southern District Court magistrate to set a briefing schedule, following a decision handed down by the Fifth Circuit in November.

The state is attempting to seize control of the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport which is run by the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority (JMAA). Members of the authority of appointed by the city.

At the heart of the matter is whether attorneys for JMAA can 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.

The Fifth Court ruled Ball had not made a mistake and could allow Songy to be deposed.

A conference between the magistrate and attorneys was held on January 24.

Ball ruled that the state must file a response to the circuit court’s order by February 15. JMAA and the city Jackson must file a rebuttal no later than March 1, according to court documents.

 

The Fifth Circuit’s decision represents the latest round of legal wrangling in the state’s effort to take over the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport.

In 2016, the Mississippi Legislature approved SB 2162, which would do away with JMAA and replace it with a new board made of up state, regional and Jackson appointees.

City leaders have long protested the decision and claim motives behind the takeover are race-related.

The airport is owned by the city of Jackson, a majority-black city, and is operated by JMAA, a five-member board made up of members appointed by the mayor and approved by the Jackson City Council.

Currently, all five appointees are African-American.

The bill, if upheld, would essentially strip control of the airport away from the city. Under 2162’s provisions, JMAA would be replaced by a nine-member board with only two members appointed by the mayor and council.

SB 2162 was authored by a handful of white Republican lawmakers, and signed into law by Bryant, a white Republican governor.

To date, most of the legal battles involving the takeover have centered on the state’s motive.

To determine lawmakers’ motives, attorneys have sought communications between lawmakers and other state officials and have attempted to subpoena Bryant staffers.

Opponents of the takeover say the correspondence is needed to determine motive. Lawmakers have fought turning over the documents, saying it would have a “chilling effect” on discussing legislation.

The district court ruled that all communications between lawmakers and third-party officials had to be turned over. Other correspondence may be kept private but must be listed on a “privilege log” for review by the court. 

 

The law also changes requirements for serving on the board, including requiring the governor’s appointees to have a valid pilot’s license. Other members must have experience in other fields, including accounting, financial analysis, executive management in business, aviation or economic development.

The only qualifications for the current board include living in the capital city.

The law was slated to take effect on July 1, 2016, but the measure has been temporarily blocked by the courts and by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

 

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