Legal fees top at least $138K in Jackson’s battle over who will pick up your trash

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Jackson, Mississippi's seal(WLBT)
Published: May. 23, 2022 at 2:31 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - What the city of Jackson is paying in legal fees over who will pick up people’s trash could fund fireworks displays for Juneteenth and the Fourth of July more than five times over.

Information obtained through open record requests shows that costs associated with the city’s numerous trash-related lawsuits so far total more than $138,000.

The request was filed just days after the council reneged on its plans to fund the Department of Parks and Recreation’s fireworks displays for the upcoming holidays.

Meanwhile, the trash battles appear to be far from over, with yet another trash-related case pending in Hinds County Chancery Court.

“This is a sad state of affairs, and I regret that these expenditures are necessary,” Council President Virgi Lindsay said. “But they are.”

Lindsay said the fees did not impact the council’s decision not to pay for fireworks, saying the funds came from a different pot of money. Combined, the fireworks for two events were expected to run around $25,000.

“We set aside money every year for legal expenses. Some years we have to use it, some years we don’t,” she said.

The $138,000 in legal fees includes costs for a lawsuit filed by the city council against the mayor last September, as well as multiple lawsuits filed this year between the mayor and council.

At the heart of each suit is who will pick up residential trash.

In September, for instance, the council filed a suit against Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba in Hinds County Chancery Court asking the court to determine whether the council’s action to enter into an emergency waste-hauling contract without the mayor’s consent was legal.

Council members claimed the mayor abdicated his duty by not continuing contract talks with Waste Management, after the council voted down Lumumba’s first choice for trash collections, FCC Environmental Services. Hours before a hearing was set in the matter, both parties settled, with the mayor agreeing to a six-month emergency contract with Waste Management.

Fees in that case topped $45,000 for the council, with members approving paying the Bradley Arant law firm $45,149 as part of its December 7 claims docket.

The mayor’s legal fees also were more than $10,000, with Felicia Perkins P.A. charging the city $10,276 to represent the mayor in the case. A.R. Smith Law, another firm representing the mayor in the case, received $5,330.90

The latter amount was paid as part of the city’s December claims docket. It was unclear if that amount was for the mayor’s legal representation or for other services rendered to the city.

It was unclear if the invoice for the Perkins firm had been paid.

Date of InvoiceFirmBillable HoursTotal Charged
10/21/21Law Offices of Felecia PerkinsRedacted$10,276
5/17/22Law Offices of Felecia PerkinsRedacted$69,082.75
4/15/22Begley Law Firm PLLC21.25$5,312.50
5/5/22Mills Scanlon Dye & Pittman69.10$12,625
UnknownBradley Arant Boult & Cummings LLCUnknown$45,179
UnknownA.R. Smith Law PLLCUnknown$5,330.90 (Unclear if this is related to 2021 trash lawsuit.)
UnknownDeshun Martin Attorney at LawUnknownUnknown

Additional suits have come this year, with the mayor filing suit against the council to produce meeting minutes and with the mayor asking the court whether he had the authority to enter into an emergency contract without the council’s consent. The results of the latter suit have led to additional filings and additional expenses for Jackson taxpayers.

[Related: Judge says city council must present minutes to mayor by April 4]

The mayor brought on Richard’s Disposal to haul waste as part of a one-year emergency contract, after the council refused to award a long-term contract to the company.

Lumumba asked the court whether the contract had to be approved by the council to be valid. Special Appointed Judge Jess Dickinson ruled that a contract had to be signed by the council to be binding. However, Dickinson included a footnote in the decision saying the mayor, hypothetically, could veto a council’s decision to reject a contract.

The council has since filed another suit to determine whether the mayor can, in fact, veto a negative action.

Legal fees this year have also run in the tens of thousands. A May 17, 2022 invoice submitted by Felicia Perkins and Jessica Ayers, the mayor’s legal team, totals $69,082.75. Total number of billed hours was unknown. Perkins is assessing the city at $325 per hour, while Ayers is charging the city $250 an hour, redacted documents show.

A May 5 invoice submitted by John Scanlon, an attorney for the council, is for $13,296.15, and includes 69.1 billable hours.

Sam Begley, who defended the city council in its case regarding the approval of minutes, charged the city $5,312.50 for 21.25 hours, a redacted invoice from April 15 shows.

Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote said expenses aside, the decision in the most recent suit, which was initially filed in circuit court and transferred to Hinds County Chancery Court on May 12, will determine how cities across the state are governed.

Basically, the council is arguing if the mayor can veto a council’s vote to turn down a contract, he would be able to run the city without the legislative body’s consent.

The case is currently assigned to Judge Dewayne Thomas.

“Maybe we’re resolving some issues we didn’t realize were out there,” Foote said. “Whatever it is, we have to get it resolved so we know what the rules of play are.”

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