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Proposition A lawsuit goes to trial next Monday


February 09, 2005 - By SCOTT MILLER

Staff Reporter

A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a County Charter amendment requiring a vote on public funding for sports stadiums will go to trial next week.

Because a St. Louis County Circuit Court judge did not dismiss the lawsuit last week, the case will go to trial at 9 a.m. Monday, Feb. 14, at the District 13 courtroom of the County Courthouse, 7900 Carondelet Ave., Clayton.

"It's just almost impossible for me to do what I do and give you a decision in a week," Circuit Judge Barbara Wallace told attorneys at the case's second hearing Feb. 2. "This is getting very complex. I have a full docket."

While the case is complex, Wallace also questioned whether dismissing the lawsuit would benefit the defendants.

Bondholder trustees filed suit against the county and point members of the Coalition Against Public Funding for Stadiums after voters Nov. 2 overwhelmingly approved Proposition A, a measure requiring a ballot referendum for public funding of sports stadiums. The aim is to block repayment of $45 million in bonds the County Council sold to help subsidize the St. Louis Card-inals' new $397 million ballpark.

The plaintiffs contend that Proposition A is unconstitutional because it supersedes state law and blocks the county's ability to repay debt and set its budget, and the county agrees with them.

But the stadium appropriations haven't gone to a public vote, so Proposition A hasn't hindered the county's debt repayment and shouldn't be judged before an election, the defendants argue.

And coalition members Fred Lindecke and Jeanette Mott Oxford asked the judge to dismiss them from the case, saying they can't grant relief to the plaintiffs.

"Our clients cannot provide those remedies. The whole point of this lawsuit is to shut them up," said coalition attorney Chris-tina Hart of Kennedy Hawkins, suggesting the case is Strategic Litigation Against Pub-lic Participation, or a SLAPP suit. "Our cli-ents have been doing the grass-roots pro-cess, petitioning government. This lawsuit is to divert attention from those grass-roots missions into this private (legal) combat."

"We actually want them to be heard in this lawsuit," rebutted attorney Ted Noel of Armstrong Teasdale. "This seeks no damages. If I sued them for slander, if I sued them for defamation, then they would have a case (for a SLAPP suit).

"We have done nothing to hinder their First Amendment rights," Noel added. "I just did a Google search and numerous comments came up from them ... They've put out numerous press releases. And it should be noted, I believe I have every right to name them in this suit because ... they are an interested party in the outcome. If they want to remove their counterclaims, I will dismiss the case against them and we can move forward."

The defendants say dropping the case would leave no one to sue because no disagreement exists between the county and the plaintiffs.

But Wallace questioned that logic, saying the bondholders would have filed suit anyway and without the coalition's argument, declaring Proposition A null and void would be a much easier decision. All other parties involved argue Proposition A's unconstitutionality.

"It seems counterintuitive for you not to be in the case," Wallace said. "If you guys weren't sitting here a lot of this stuff would be bottled up. This would be over already. It just seems to me if you get dismissed from this case, then where are you then?"

So when the case goes to trial Monday, Lindecke and Oxford will be part of the suit and coalition lawyers will defend Proposition A's constitutionality, as they did during Wallace's first hearing on Jan. 27.

Lindecke and Oxford also filed a claim against the county, asking Wallace to force a ballot referendum on an appropriation the County Council made in January to pay about $2.5 million on the Cardinal subsidy. The council previously denied that request.

If Proposition A isn't declared unconstitutional, Wallace will judge this matter as well.

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