Hearing date set in dispute over attorneys

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Whether three Jackson attorneys can proceed with a complaint to halt Jackson water shutoffs in light of the Siemens lawsuit will be determined early next month.

A hearing date has been set for Thursday, August 8, to hear arguments in the city’s motion to disqualify attorneys representing six Jackson water customers, arguing that shutoffs should end because of problems with the Siemens contract.

The arguments will be made in front of Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Tiffany Grove, at or around 1:30 p.m.

In June, the city filed a motion to disqualify attorneys Pieter Teeuwissen, Anthony Simon and Jeffrey Graves, who are representing six customers who filed a complaint recently seeking relief from water shutoffs.

Jackson claims that Teeuwissen and Simon both worked with the city when it brought on Siemens in 2012. Teeuwissen was city attorney at the time. Simon advised the city on issuing the nearly $90 million bonds to cover the Siemens work.

The city argues Teeuwissen “is now representing the plaintiffs in a substantially related matter in which the plaintiff’s interest are materially adverse to the interest of his former client.”

The city argues that Graves also should be disqualified because he has been “privy to confidential and privileged information that both Teeuwissen and Simon would have gained from their city clients during private consultations and executive sessions.”

Teeuwissen was city attorney from 2009 to 2013. Simon was hired as co-bond counsel and both were involved “in virtually all aspects of the performance contracting agreement between the city and Siemens Industry,” court documents state.

As for the water shutoffs, five residents and one business filed a complaint against the city on June 18, a week after Jackson filed suit against Siemens Industry and its subcontractors for complications related to the Siemens work.

According to the June 18 complaint, attorneys for the six say Jackson shouldn’t be shutting off water in light of the Siemens work.

The work included replacing residential and commercial water meters citywide and installing a new billing system.

The work resulted in numerous problems for the water department. Last year, the city reported that more than a third of its 52,000 water/sewer customers were not receiving bills. Thousands of customers also received grossly inaccurate bills.

According to the chancery court filings, the plaintiffs have “outstanding water bills varying in amounts from $900 to $34,461.”

Complainants include Alex Allen Jr., LaTrenda Funches, Joseph Johnson Jr., Kenneth Mabry, Barbara Evans and Village Cleaners.

Attorneys for the six say, “The city is disconnecting water services for scores of citizens who dispute the inaccurate, woefully inadequate and ‘exorbitant’ bills. Disconnecting water service under such circumstances is arbitrary and capricious, and without substantial justification.”

The Lumumba administration announced late last year that billing problems were being worked out, and that water shutoffs for nonpayment would begin in November.

Earlier this year, the city ramped up its collection efforts, in an effort to generate more revenue for water/sewer billing.

Under city rules, customers are only shutoff after they are given notice of a pending shutoff and refuse to contact the city or set up a payment plan to pay past due amounts.

In a separate case, Jackson is seeking $225 million in damages from Siemens and its subcontractors.

Teeuwissen couldn’t be reached for comment.

Jackson told the Sun previously that it would not discontinue shutoffs in light of the chancery suit.

The city collected $4.7 million, or 92 percent of all water fees billed ($5,106,000) for May.

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