They say attorneys often are the big winners in court, and the lawsuit over control of the Jackson-Medgar Evers Airport is proving that to be the case.
In 2016 the state Legislature approved a law removing control of the airport, located in suburban Rankin County, from the majority-black capital city. The new law created a nine-member board, with Jackson getting only two appointments to it.
Jackson sued to block the law, calling it a hostile takeover of the airport.
It’s hard to tell how the case will turn out. Assuming the Legislature has the authority to do what it did, it would be difficult for any court to say the law is unconstitutional.
It’s not difficult, however, to say that the new law clearly is designed to put the state in charge of the airport. Under the new setup, the governor gets to pick four of the nine seats on the airport board, while the lieutenant governor selects a fifth appointee.
In addition to Jackson’s two seats on the board, Rankin County and Madison County officials each get to appoint one. Assuming the five state appointees vote as a bloc (which is not a perpetual guarantee), that group will be the ultimate decision-makers for the airport.
At a minimum, this is a no-confidence vote in Jackson’s ability to run the airport. Given the city’s obvious difficulties taking care of basic public services, the concern is understandable.
Even so, an airport is a completely different operation than a city, and it’s safe to say that the Jackson-Evers airport runways aren’t full of potholes. Nor is the airport’s water system imploding, and crime on the property is nowhere near the problem it is in the city.
The lawmaker who filed the bill creating the new airport board has said he doesn’t see a problem with the setup, since the city will continue to receive all the airport revenue. The obvious response to that is: If the city is getting the revenue, it should have more than two of nine votes on the airport board.
The lawsuit is about two years old, and true to form, lawyers are the big winners. The Clarion Ledger reported this week that defendants in the lawsuit have spent six figures’ worth of state money on the case already.
The state has paid several law firms, including one representing Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and another representing former and current lawmakers, a total of $137,000 in the case. The Jackson Municipal Airport Authority, meanwhile, has spent $272,000 in legal fees.
All told, the legal bills total $419,000. The final tally could be a lot more than that depending on how long it takes to get the case to court and whether a ruling is appealed, which seems likely.
The airport’s CEO made a good point when he wondered this week why state officials have hired outside law firms for the case. He believes the attorney general’s office could have done the job at a much lower cost.
It will be no surprise if this lawsuit turns out to be a million-dollar baby for the state.