Jackson mayor wants judge to modify order in case involving his veto power

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba speaks to the press after Judge Larry Roberts' hands down his ruling...
Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba speaks to the press after Judge Larry Roberts' hands down his ruling in Hinds County Chancery Court.(WLBT)
Published: Jul. 26, 2022 at 5:16 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Another volley has been fired in the ongoing saga over who will haul Jackson’s residents’ trash.

This time, the volley is in the case involving the mayor’s veto power. Earlier this month, Judge Larry Roberts ruled that the mayor could not veto a negative vote of the Jackson City Council, essentially nullifying his vetos related to a controversial waste-hauling contract.

Attorneys for Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba are now calling that judge’s ruling into question, saying the written order did not match the judge’s ruling from the bench, and arguing that attorneys representing the city council in the case violated state chancery court rules. The motion was filed Monday.

“In order to grant a motion... the chancery court need only be convicted that a mistake of law or fact had been made, or that injustice would attend allowing the judgment to stand,” attorney Felecia Perkins wrote. “In this action, mistakes of fact and law were made, and manifest injustice would attend if the Order and Opinion and Final Judgment are allowed to stand.”

DeShun Martin, an independent attorney representing Jackson City Council in the case, says the newest filing is essentially a motion for the judge to reconsider. “I am 99.9 percent sure he will deny a motion to reconsider,” he said.

If the judge does modify his order, it would be at least the second time an initial order in one of the city’s trash-related suits has been changed.

In April, Justice Jess Dickinson vacated his initial order in a case between the mayor and the city council because he included his comments on veto power. The justice said he shouldn’t have addressed mayoral vetoes because the question had not been put before him.

Lumumba’s latest motion was filed Monday, 10 days after Judge Larry Robert’s written ruling was made public. In it, he reiterated an earlier bench ruling saying the mayor did not have the power to veto a no-vote, and that Lumumba’s decisions to veto the council’s rejection of contracts with Richard’s Disposal were without effect.

The mayor’s attorneys say the judge’s bench ruling did not include his aforementioned vetoes and that they were “erroneously adopted” in the written order. They also argue there wasn’t enough time to review the opinion before the judge entered it into the court records. Lumumba is represented by Perkins and Jessica Ayers. Perkins signed off on the motion and is serving as the lead attorney in the case.

Following his July 8 ruling, Roberts directed the city council’s attorney to write up a draft ruling reflecting what he said in his bench ruling. The council is represented by John Scanlon and Deshun Martin.

The written opinion was sent to the judge and mayor’s counsel on Monday, July 11, at 5:05 p.m. The following day, at 3:25 p.m., Judge Roberts informed both parties that it had reviewed the order, signed it, and was preparing to mail them to the court administrator that Wednesday.

“The undersigned counsel was not provided sufficient time to provide criticisms to the proposed order and opinion and final judgment as required by Rule 5.04 of the Uniform Chancery Court Rules prior to the court accepting the plaintiff’s proposals with minor revisions,” Perkins wrote. “The order... contained statements of fact and conclusions of law that are not consistent with the court’s bench ruling or the pleadings before the court.”

According to a copy of the chancery court rules found on the Mississippi Supreme Court’s website, attorneys chosen to draw up the rulings in a case must submit them to opposing counsel for “criticism as to form only.” However, they do not indicate how long the opposing counsel has to suggest changes to the proposed ruling.

Among concerns, the mayor’s attorneys argue that the court’s bench rulings did not mention the mayor’s four vetoes of Richard’s contracts, while the written order does. Additionally, they say the mayor did not argue he could veto a negative vote, but that he could veto the council’s decision, which was a “positive vote to disapprove a contract.”

“Adoption of the city council’s minutes containing its official actions [satisfy] the ‘adoption’ required by [state statute],” Perkins wrote. “Therefore, the purported fact was not undisputed, and the final judgment should be amended to reflect the same.”

The city council filed suit against Lumumba in May. At the heart of the matter was whether the mayor could override the council’s decision to vote down an emergency waste-hauling contract with Richard’s. The firm began work on April 1, the day after one of the mayor’s vetoes of the council’s negative vote was issued. Lumumba cited the now-vacated ruling by Dickinson, saying that he could hypothetically veto a no vote, have the vote overridden, and then challenge the council’s decision in court.

Roberts, though, said that the council’s rejection of the contract was inaction, not action and that Lumumba cannot veto a negative action.

“The attorney general’s office has opined on more than one occasion that ‘a negative action, ie., a failed motion, is not subject to veto by the mayor,’” he wrote. “The court agrees with the attorney general’s interpretation that when a matter is not passed by the city council, it is a negative action to which the mayor does not have the power to veto.”

Lumumba also argues that the opposing counsel violated Section 3.10 of the Uniform Chancery Court Rules by providing the judge with exhibits highlighting certain points. However, those points were not highlighted in the copies of the same documents provided to his counsel.

Section 3.10 prohibits “earwigging” or influencing the chancery court judge. John Scanlon, the lead attorney representing the city council, was not available for comment.

For his part, Martin said the other side was “grabbing for straws... looking for something to stand on. Nothing happened that was wrong. There was no error by the judge, no error by counsel.”

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