Two defendants dismissed from lawsuit on Proposition A; trial will start Tuesday
February 16, 2005 - By SCOTT MILLER
A St. Louis County Circuit Court Judge last week dismissed two defendants from a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the County Charter amendment that requires a vote on public funding for sports stadiums, or Proposition A.
The defendants — Fred Lindecke and Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford, D-St. Louis, of the Coalition Against Public Funding for Stadiums — were dismissed as dispensable parties, but still have a counterclaim against the county.
They're asking the judge to force a ballot referendum on the county's appropriation to repay this year roughly $2.5 million of $45.7 million in bonds the County Council sold to subsidize a $397 million ballpark for the St. Louis Cardinals.
"The big thing was making sure their interests were protected," coalition attorney Christina Hart of Kennedy Hawkins told the Call. "It's a big relief that they're not having to defend themselves anymore. So the most important thing is this allows them to do what they've been trying to do the whole time and that's get Proposition A on the ballot."
With Lindecke and Oxford off the defendants' list, Judge Barbara Wallace also dismissed their counterclaim that they were targets of Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation, or a SLAPP suit aimed at chilling free speech.
Meanwhile, bondholder trustees still have a pending lawsuit over the constitutionality of Proposition A. The judge will consider both issues at the same time, bondholder attorney Ted Noel of Armstrong Teasdale told the Call.
The lawsuit will go to trial at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 22, in the District 13 courtroom at the County Courthouse, 7900 Carondelet Ave., Clayton.
"What we've agreed to is all issues of all parties will be judged at the same time," Noel said. "We've gotten around all the procedural aspects and the judge is now ready to consider the merits of this case. That's what we want."
By keeping the coalition's counterclaim against the county, defense does exist for Proposition A's constitutionality. Without the coalition, the defense is questionable.
The county, which is the other defendant, has sided with the bondholders' argument that Proposition A hinders the county's ability to repay debt and set a budget, making the measure unconstitutional.
At the last court hearing Feb. 2, Deputy County Counselor Bob Grant told Wallace that Proposition A was damaging the county's bond rating, which Fitch Ratings just put on "watch negative" last week. Plus, he added, county residents already voted on the stadium funding when they approved a hotel-motel tax, revenue designated for tourism.
Hart wasn't as definitive as Noel as to whether she could defend Proposition A's constitutionality in Noel's case against the county, but did say her counterclaim could be included as evidence in that case.
Hart wouldn't elaborate, saying, "We're trying to figure out exactly what our strategies are and what we're going to do."
She may be crafting long-term strategies for a lengthy legal debate. If Wallace declares Proposition A unconstitutional, the coalition's counterclaim for a ballot referendum may never receive a declaratory judgment, "assuming the Appellate Court would uphold that ruling," Hart said.
"Those appropriations (to repay the Cardinals' stadium bonds) will come up every year. At some point our case will be ripe," she added.