Last June, Jackson residents filed a lawsuit against the City of Jackson and Siemens Inc. over the City’s water-sewer billing crisis. Photo by Imani Khayyam
Earlier this week, attorney Carlos Moore of the Cochran Firm stepped in to represent Jackson residents who are suing both Siemens Inc. and the City of Jackson. Moore, who has offices in Ridgeland and Grenada, entered the case following a judge's order last month to dismiss former City Attorney Pieter Teeuwissen due to a conflict of interest.
As the City of Jackson continues its own legal battle against Siemens seeking $225 million over a botched water-sewer billing system, Moore is continuing work on a lawsuit filed in June on behalf of Jackson residents, whom he says the City abandoned even though water users suffered most under the water-sewer system billing crisis that started in 2013.
The lawsuit represents six plaintiffs whose water service was cut off after they could not pay exorbitantly high and inaccurate water bills. One of the plaintiffs had a water bill for $34,000. The lawsuit alleges that the City knew that the water-sewer billing system was faulty but did not alert account holders. Some were making payments when their service was cut.
"We are not in favor of the City being the only arbiter of the citizens' fate," Moore told the Jackson Free Press in a phone call today. "They have proven time and time again that they are not taking care of the citizens, and so that's why I had to step in on their behalf to make sure that they are adequately taken care of. ... Water systems have been arbitrarily cut off at various times, and (residents) cannot continue to live on the whims of the City. The City can wake up tomorrow and decide to do something else different."
"Water is essential for survival," Moore added, emphasizing that the current situation in Jackson constitutes a "public health emergency."
Judge Tiffany Grove disqualified Teeuwissen, who filed the lawsuit along with his co-counsel, because of his past role as city attorney, a position he held from July 1, 2009, to Sept. 30, 2013. He is currently counsel for the Hinds County Board of Supervisors.
The JFP's years-long coverage of the Siemens water-billing and repair contract and the minority contractors it paid along the way.
In a June 25 written response to the water-client lawsuit, Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba insisted that the City had implemented measures to address billing issues following the Siemens contract. Lumumba also criticized Teeuwissen and his co-counsel Anthony R. Simon then for participating in the Siemens contract negotiations. "He (Teeuwissen) was a direct participant in the purchase of the system that he now claims has harmed his clients. His partner was also involved in the City's purchase of the Siemens contract, serving as counsel on the bond that was issued to pay Siemens $90 million for their work," he wrote.
In addition to seeking injunctive relief, Moore and his team are requesting the appointment of a neutral special master as well as full and accurate accounting of bills for account holders within 90 days.
On Oct. 2, the City of Jackson unveiled a new water-bill debt repayment plan for residents in an effort to collect nearly $50 million in unpaid bills stemming from "tens of thousands" of delinquent accounts. Residents who want to avoid having water shut off must enroll in one of the payment plans, which require monthly payments ranging from $75 to $150 depending on whether one rents or owns the property associated with the delinquent account.
Moore criticized the City for requiring people to pay off debt related to bills may not be accurate, adding that the plan "does not resolve ... the problems that have existed for so long." He questioned the accuracy of the unusually high bills plaintiffs other Jackson residents received—$16,000, $19,000, $34,000. Requiring residents to pay off these water bills, Moore said, is "still unjust because you have not proven that that bill is accurate. The mayor has already gone on record saying that Siemens has installed an inadequate metering and billing system, so until we get to the bottom of it, I just don't know why you expect people to pay bills that may not be accurate."
"The City is just looking out for the City, and they come up with a new plan every few weeks, every few months. No plan they have come up with seems to work successfully, so I'm not holding my breath that this ... idea is going to work either," Moore said.
Nevertheless, Moore is optimistic about what the residents of Jackson stand to gain from the lawsuit. "I'm very confident that we will be successful in our efforts to get the injunction and to stop the City from turning off anyone else's water," he said.
Follow City Reporter Seyma Bayram on Twitter @SeymaBayram0. Send tips to [email protected].