Sunday, July 7, 2013

Judge orders Hinds County to turn over Motorola settlement agreement to JJ

Special Chancellor Larry Buffington ordered Hinds County to turn over to Jackson Jambalaya a copy of the settlement agreement between the county and Motorola. Hinds County sued Motorola in 2009 for damages. Hinds County claimed Motorola allowed Ridgeland and Madison to "bootleg" off of the radio system.*  The case settled for an undisclosed amount in 2011. It is not known how much money Hinds County or its attorney, Precious Martin, received in the settlement agreement. Attorney Curt Crowley represented Jackson Jambalaya.

This correspondent filed a public records request with Hinds County seeking a copy of the settlement in the lawsuit. Hinds County did not fulfill or deny my request but instead notified Motorola. Motorola filed a petition for a protective order in Hinds County Chancery Court requesting the court permanently seal the settlement.Attorney Curt Crowley filed a motion to intervene against Hinds County and Motorola for Jackon Jambalaya on May 24, 2011. Chancellor Dewayne Thomas refused to set a hearing date for over six months. All Hinds County chancellors recused themselves.


It is the position of this correspondent that since Hinds County IS a public body, the settlement is a public record and the public is entitled view it. The case is civil, not criminal in nature and is not part of an investigation nor is a minor involved. Such accountability is the foundation of representative government. The people have a right to know how the county conducts its affairs, how much money it received from Motorola, and how much money it paid its attorneys.

The Chancellor granted the request at a March hearing this year. Judge Buffington decreed:

"This court recognizes that the most recent cases involved private individuals and companies and not a government entity.

This Court further finds no compelling reason to not require the Hinds County Board of Supervisors to provide the settlement agreement pursuant to a properly filed Freedom of Information Act request.

This Court further finds that the intervener has properly requested the documents and the same should be provided.

It is therefore, ordered, adjudged, and decreed that the settlement documents between Motorola Solutions, Inc. and Hinds County, Mississippi are subject to the Freedom of Information Act and that the documents requested are matters that are discoverable by the public and should remain so
."

It should be noted that after Motorola filed its petition to seal, the company did not file any responses or objections to my intervention. Motorola did not even appear at the March hearing but instead told Judge Buffington it would allow the petition to stand on its merits. It is Hinds County that has mightily resisted disclosing the settlement agreement. Mr. Martin has filed several responses and objections. It is Precious Martin who appeared at the March hearing to oppose my motion to intervene.** It remains to be seen whether Hinds County will comply with the order or appeal. Stay tuned.

*It is the position of this website that Ridgeland and Madison never bootlegged off of the radio system. There was numerous correspondence between Hinds County, Motorola, and the two cities allowing the two cities to use the radio system. Former EOC Director Larry Fisher stated there was no cost to Hinds County. The board of aldermen of both cities approved resolutions giving Hinds County the authority to negotiate with Motorola. The only thing that did not take place was a vote by the Board of Supervisors that was placed on the minutes. Supervisor Robert Graham sponsored a motion to "audit" the system only a few months after he took office. Brown Communications employees Stacy Stowers and Nathan Hargrove (sound familiar?) "audited" the system in 11 days and "discovered" the bootlegging. The board of supervisors than authorized attorney Precious Martin to sue Motorola on a contingency fee contract. Hinds County tried to claim over $10 million in damages from Motorola. It is interesting that Hinds never attempted to sue Madison and Ridgeland.

**From the March post: "Mr. Martin strongly objected to the records as he accused this correspondent of some slander: "He has defamed me on his website. He has defamed my wife and her character. I don't know what legal genius thought of these attacks but he defamed me." He later said "I'm one of his favorite targets". He then argued if the motion was approved "no settlement would be kept confidential." Mr. Crowley replied "that is the purpose of the public records act, to give everyone access to public records."

Mr. Martin argued I forfeited my right to intervene and I was "doing an end run" as I should have filed in Hinds County Circuit Court where the original Hinds-Motorola lawsuit was filed and settled. . Judge Buffington asked Mr. Martin how I could have intervened in circuit court when the settlement was not filed with the court. Mr. Crowley stated Section 25-61-13* of the Mississippi Code said public records lawsuits are to be filed in Chancery Court. The court agreed with Mr. Crowley and dismissed the "filed in the wrong court" argument.

Judge Buffington said my rights to records were based more on the fact I am a citizen of Hinds County than as a member of the media. Any citizen has the right to challenge the government." Judge Buffington said he wanted to hold a hearing in sixty days at the earliest possible date to determine whether to seal any or all of the settlement agreement.
"

The humorous part of that hearing was when Mr. Martin argued that if my motion was granted, then anyone could "see the records." Attorney Curt Crowley told the judge that was the entire point of a public records statute, "so the people can see the records".

JJ files motion to intervene
 Hinds wants to keep settlement secret
JJ files response to Hinds County
 Judge Thomas does not set court date
JJ unable to get court date
Copy of Precious Martin retainer agreement
Did Madison and Ridgeland really bootleg off of the system
Supers used report to sue Motorola
Judge allows JJ to intervene

**Section 25-61-13 of the Mississippi Code:
1) Any person denied the right granted by section 25-61-5 to inspect and/or copy public records may institute a suit in the chancery court of the county in which the public body is located, and the court shall determine whether such public record is exempt from the provisions of this chapter, and in making such determination the court shall take into consideration any constitutional or statutory law or decision of any court of this state or the United States or any rule of common law. Process shall be served on the proper officials according to law.

(2) In any suit filed under subsection (1) of this section, the court has the authority to prohibit the public body from withholding the public records, to order the production of any public records improperly withheld from the person seeking disclosure, and to grant such other equitable relief as may be proper. The court, on its own motion, may privately view the public records in controversy before reaching a decision.

(3) Proceedings arising under this section shall take precedence on the docket over all other matters and shall be assigned for hearing and trial at the earliest practicable date and expedited in every way. Such suits may be heard in termtime or in vacation
.



12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good job KF & CC.

This reminded me....what ever came of the unsealing the secret settlement AG Jim Hood made with the Katrina litigation a few years back?

Anonymous said...

I'm anxiously awaiting finding out what these super top secret documents reveal. There's obviously stuff in them that some people desperately don't want us to see.


The other side can appeal, but that doesn't cure their immediate problem, that is, the Court's Order. I believe that they will have to successfully obtain a stay pending appeal from Judge Buffington and if they lose that, convince the Supreme Court to stay the Order pending appeal. Otherwise, if they ignore your FOI request now, you file a motion to hold them in contempt.

There's a lot left to fight about, but congrats to you and Mr. Crowley for winning Round 1.

Kingfish said...

Food for thought. If they appeal.... and lose, that would create a nice little precedent statewide, wouldn't it?

KaptKangaroo said...

Awesome job! For the people, by the people, of the people; excellent point on appeal. Oh the tangled web some will weave. Keep playing chess.

Anonymous said...

Tenacity is a great character attribute in one who informs the public and fights for the public's right to know. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Crowley still has a license? Wonder how much JJ did pro se on this case....

Anonymous said...

Major congrats Curt. You've fought a good fight!

Anonymous said...

I'd also be interested in knowing how the HCBOS Board Attorney Crystal Martin avoided any allegations of conflict of interest when the board retained her husband (and law partner) Precious to represent the board in this suit. Something stinks.

Anonymous said...

"I'd also be interested in knowing how the HCBOS Board Attorney Crystal Martin avoided any allegations of conflict of interest when the board retained her husband"

Isn't that how it's supposed to work? What's the point of govt work if you can't slip a little side business to your friends and family? Just ask Barbara Blackmon who is the atty for Canton municipal utilities...who just hired Rep. Ed Blackmon to represent them in court...and did a fine job authoring legislation specific to the Canton utilities in the 2013 legislative session.
Ethics commission, hello???

Anonymous said...

KF, my gut feeling, without knowing a lot about this area of the law, is that the other side will lose if they appeal. However, given how ferociously they have fought you so far, I will be very surprised if they don't appeal and seek a stay of the effect of the Order in your favor. Your opponent(s) seem pretty desparate to keep you and us from seeing what is in the secret documents.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

With all the alleged corruption in the Motorola shakedown case, 4:38 throws dung at the one lawyer not accused of any shenanigans and who obviously pleased his client.

That you Saul Alinsky?

Anonymous said...

Kap'n ~ You gotcho prepositional phrases backwards.

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