The Mississippi Link, a small black newspaper in Jackson, can't celebrate just yet. Even though Link owner Socrates Garrett won a lawsuit against the city last month, the city has announced that it will appeal Circuit Court Judge Winston's Kidd's decision.
The Link had sued over a city legal ads contract, plus attorney's fees, after Mayor Frank Melton vetoed a City Council decision to accept the Link's bid. Melton instead awarded the contract to the second lowest bidder, The Clarion-Ledger, saying he was doing it in the best interest "of the taxpayers." The Clarion-Ledgers claims a circulation number of about 22,000 in Jackson.
Garrett claimed Melton vindictively vetoed the council's initial decision because he had supported Melton's adversary during his mayoral campaign. Garrett's attorney Dorsey Carson argued that state law requires the City Council to pick the lowest bidder.
After Kidd's decision, the city filed its motion for reconsideration and/or clarification in circuit court, arguing that the Link's smaller circulation—its circulation is about 4,000 a week—is not "geographically diverse" enough to meet the needs of the city. Thus, the city said, the mayor's veto was not arbitrary or capricious, as Judge Kidd declared in his September decision.
Gannett-giant The Clarion-Ledger submitted its own memorandum in support of the city's motion for reconsideration, claiming the court committed "an error of law." The Ledger argues that the council and mayor reached a decision together, despite Melton's veto, and used a decision from the Supreme court case City of Jackson v. Capital Reporter Publishing Company Inc., to argue that the circuit court "cannot substitute its own judgment as to the wisdom or soundness of the municipality's action."
Carson said The Clarion-Ledger's support of the appeal makes it a potential target for suit by the Mississippi Link if it interferes in the state law demanding the city award the contract to the lowest bidder. "(To interfere with the state law) does not require that the defendant be an officer of the state. It is enough that he is a willful participant in joint action with the state or its agents (in shirking state law)," Carson said.
Clarion-Ledger attorney Leonard Van Slyke would make no retort to Carson's threat. "I'd really rather not respond to Mr. Carson, but I can say that we feel very confident of our position," Slyke said.
Clarion-Ledger Publisher John Newhouse did not return calls for comment, but Jackson Deputy City Attorney Pieter Teeuwissen argued that the Mississippi Link had the option of kicking The Clarion-Ledger out of the original suit filed earlier this year, but opted not to do so.
"To be honest, we were surprised when the Mississippi Link attorney let The Clarion-Ledger join the suit," Teeuwissen said.
Carson said he allowed The Clarion-Ledger to join in the suit in order to prevent a second appeal by the daily after Kidd's decision.
"We were trying to look into the future," Carson said. "Essentially, any person who claims an interest in the property or transaction has a right to intervene if those interests are not being represented, but after The Clarion-Ledger moved to intervene in this matter, the city of Jackson failed to object to The Clarion-Ledger's motion. … At that time, we made the tactical decision to withdraw our objection so that the city attorney's office would not have a reason to appeal a Court ruling on the intervention matter."
Garrett said he was continuing the fight, despite attorneys' fees and court costs creeping up to about the amount he would have made from the original city contract.
"The judge gave a specific order for the city to begin immediately publishing city legals in the Mississippi Link and to pay any damages and attorney's fees by the 13 of October," Garrett said. "The city has not complied with the judge's ruling. They are therefore in contempt of court."
Carson submitted an Oct. 20 motion for contempt to the court, arguing that even though the city has filed a motion for reconsideration, "the injunctive relief granted by the Court in its final judgment … is not subject to Rule 62 stay." (Rule 62 is a law governing the time limitations of an appeal process.) Carson argues that the mayor, some council members and the city clerk should be "confined in jail until they purge themselves of their contempt."
Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon bemoaned at the onset of the Link difficulty that the law demanding the city award bids to the lowest bidder be clarified. A change in that law, however, would require legislative action, and is outside the council's power to alter.
Thanks for this story, Adam Lynch. I was unaware that there were more problems associated with Kid's judgement and that there would be an appeal. When will the CL stop? Don't they make enough money on their no-good paper to pay their way rather then TAKE their way? Do they really have to run after every crying dime?
I'm still in memory of how they treated teh JFP over distribution locations. This was cruel!
This is so wrong and a real negative in the spirit of fairness. Melton and the Council should rewrite their guidelines if they do not plan to obey them. Our present City government is sick and I don't know what it will take to heal.