Two Proposition A proponents file counterclaim contending they're targets of SLAPP suit
January 05, 2005 - By SCOTT MILLER
Lead supporters of the recently approved charter amendment requiring voter approval for public funding of sports stadiums filed a counterclaim in St. Louis County Circuit Court last week, saying they are targeted in Strategic Litigation Against Public Partici-pation or a SLAPP lawsuit.
Fred Lindecke and Jeanette Mott Oxford, the point people of the Coalition Against Public Funding for Stadiums, were sued Nov. 17 by the trustees of bondholders who purchased $45 million in bonds that will help fund the new ballpark for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Now, they're suing back. In their counterclaim, Lindecke and Oxford contend they are unnecessarily named as defendants be-cause they cannot grant relief to the plaintiffs and are asking a judge to dismiss the case and grant punitive damages. A hearing on the counterclaim before Circuit Judge Barbara Wallace is scheduled for 9 a.m. Jan. 13 at the St. Louis County Courthouse, 7900 Carondelet Ave., Clayton.
After the County Council last year approved selling bonds to help subsidize the new $397 million Cardinal ballpark, Lindecke and Oxford began circulating petitions to get Proposition A on the Nov. 2 ballot.
The proposition made the ballot and garnered nearly 72 percent of the popular vote — 346,096 "yes" votes to just 135,788 "no" votes.
Questions arose about whether the measure would apply to the Cardinals' stadium subsidy — the county is scheduled to pay roughly $2.7 million annually for the next 30 years to retire the bonds.
So bondholders immediately filed suit.
"They (the bondholders) are trying to get them (Lindecke and Oxford) to not express their constitutional right of free speech to propose a proposition, to get it passed and then to have it adhered to," said Karl Hawkins of Kennedy & Hawkins, the law firm representing Lindecke and Oxford.
The issue, he told the Call, is other citizens who wish to place propositions on future ballots may not because they fear costly litigation from companies "with deep pockets."
The bondholders' lead lawyer, Ted Noel of Armstrong Teasdale, was unavailable for comment before press time on Mon-day.
The original lawsuit — filed by bondholder trustees against Lindecke, Oxford and St. Louis County — still is pending and ultimately will decide whether Proposition A applies to the Cardinal stadium subsidy.
The plaintiffs — UMB Bank, the Regional Convention and Visitors Commis-sion and other bondholder trustees — filed suit asking a judge to rule Proposition A null and void or at least that it doesn't apply to the stadium deal, which was approved before the passage of Proposition A.
The lawsuit contends that Proposition A violates the Missouri and U.S. constitutions because it impairs the county's ability to meet a prior contractual obligation.
Plus, plaintiffs argue that the county's annual appropriations specifically are for debt repayment, not necessarily stadium funding. Cardinal owners already have received the funding.
The Coalition Against Public Funding for Stadiums, on the other hand, argues no contractual obligation exists, only a moral obligation.
"The bonds are not a debt or obligation of the county, the state of Missouri or any of its political subdivisions, and neither the county, the state nor any of its political subdivisions is obligated to pay the bonds," according to the bond prospectus from the Missouri Development Finance Board.
At a recent County Council meeting, Lindecke and other members of the Coalition Against Public Funding for Stadiums urged councilmen to place the appropriation on the April 5 ballot, but the request was denied.
St. Louis County, which is named as a defendant because Proposition A amended the County Charter, agrees with the bondholder trustees.