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Notes from the cops and courts beat

By Staff
July 29, 2001
I've been in and out of the Lauderdale County Courthouse for a couple of weeks, doing some research on medical lawsuits and other civil actions, and monitoring the current Circuit Court session. Here are some thoughts about what's been going on there and in U.S. District Court in Jackson.
Courthouse parking a no-win situation
Parking around the Lauderdale County Courthouse was at a premium this week as an 18-member grand jury, petit jurors, defendants, witnesses and attorneys competed for the limited spaces available with people who just wanted to renew their car tags.
It is not unusual to hear intricate conversations about parking arrangements during a Circuit Court session, when courthouse workers often park two cars deep on the 20th Avenue side of the building.
Courthouse employees say they have to arrive early in the morning to secure a space or resign themselves to $6 parking tickets. Seems like the police department could acknowledge parking in that area is inadequate and lighten up on issuing tickets during a court term.
Tower dispute: No end in sight
The dispute between Caldwell Tanks and Landmark Structures over construction of a $1.26 million water tower in North Meridian promises to drag on for a long time.
Caldwell's bid won. Landmark's lost and company officials there appealed to Circuit Judge Larry Roberts to force the Meridian City Council to reverse its decision. The difference between the two bids is $52,000 an edge Landmark officials say Caldwell gained by ignoring the bid specifications.
City attorney Bill Hammack said during a recent court hearing that he doesn't care who wins as long as the tower gets built in a timely fashion. In this, he is probably destined to be disappointed. Lawyers from both Caldwell and Landmark spent a lot of time before the judge talking about contingencies and correct legal standing in case of appeal. This could go on for years.
Here is a recent exchange between me and Mr. Hammack. Make of it what you will.
Monk: "Mr. Hammack, I have a stupid question, but I'm going to ask it anyway."
Hammack: "OK."
Monk: "If the point is to build the water tower just as soon as possible, does the city council have an option to void all the bids and re-advertise?"
Hammack: "It's not a stupid question, but I can't comment on it."
Monk: "Who can?"
Hammack: "No one now."
Hard luck restaurants
Frank Thompson of the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation says the "Restaurant Formerly Known as Princeton's" had at least three names before that The Cock of the Walk, Cypress Lodge and Chesterfield's.
Is it the location? Thompson says not necessarily.
Whatever the reason, Princeton's owners apparently left some bad debt behind them as they closed up shop. Newell Paper Company filed a civil suit in April in Lauderdale County Circuit Court, seeking payment of $5,550 in unpaid bills for napkins, toilet tissue and other paper products, and 8 percent in interest and fees.
Princeton's never responded to the lawsuit and Newell Paper won by default in mid-May. Newell spokesman Tommy Galyean said he prefers not to talk about whether the debt has now been paid.
No announcement has been made about the building's next tenants.
Will the real Citizens' please stand up?
In another business dispute, Citizens National Bank officials have announced they will appeal U.S. District Judge Tom Lee's ruling against them to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
Citizens National Bank, of Meridian, filed suit to prevent The Citizens Bank, of Philadelphia, from operating under that name in Lauderdale County. President and CEO Archie McDonnell says the similarity between the two names is confusing. (Having written a couple of stories about the situation, I have to say I see his point.)
Listening to the talk around town, a lot of people are wondering how far Citizens National Bank will go to try to win this fight.
Their determination is brought into sharp focus by the fact that Judge Lee issued his ruling in response to a "motion for summary judgment" filed by The Citizens Bank. A motion for summary judgment asks the judge to decide the case without the benefit of a trial, a jury or witnesses. They are rarely granted.
Judge Lee granted this one, in effect saying, "This case is so clear that I don't need to hear another word, and neither does a jury."
If Citizens National Bank prevails in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, the case will be remanded back to U.S. District Court for trial.
If Citizens National Bank loses in the 5th Circuit, the only place left to appeal is the U.S. Supreme Court. How weird would that be?
Suzanne Monk is managing editor of The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3229, or e-mail her at smonk@themeridianstar.com.