Annexation conference set for Tuesday

Published 5:00 am Monday, May 5, 2003

Attorneys representing the city in its annexation case have beeninformed that they are responsible for notifying objectorsregarding trial-related proceedings, according to a Friday letterfrom 15th District Chancery Court District Court AdministratorBethany Lewis.

However, City Attorney Joe Fernald said a status conference,scheduled for Tuesday at 1 p.m., has not changed since it was setduring an initial hearing in March. Therefore, his understandingwas that notification would only be required if the conference dateand time was changed.

“We would be obliged at that time to notify them of the change,”Fernald said Saturday.

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Lewis, administrator for Chancellor Ed Patten, sent Fernald andannexation attorney Jerry Mills the letter Friday after receivingcalls from objectors regarding whose responsiblity it is to notifyparties of hearings, including Tuesday’s status conference.

“There should be no confusion over this,” the letter said.

Lewis said she received two calls regarding notification of theconference. In the letter, she cited efforts by Patten and ChanceryClerk Tillmon Bishop to compile a master list of objectors forattorneys to use.

“It is the position of the court administrator, as in all othercases, the attorneys are responsible for notifying interestedparties,” Lewis said in the letter.

Fernald agreed that the letter is correct and said objectorswould be notified of hearing dates and other times in the future.Those dates are expected to be set during Tuesday’s conference.

“It has not changed. It is the same time as before…,” Fernaldsaid of the Tuesday conference. “Frankly, there was not anobligation on our part to send formal notice on this.”

Fernald added that he spoke with Mills, who said notice of astatus conference had not been needed in any of his previousannexation cases. Mills was unavailable for comment Friday.

An evidence discovery period, a tentative trial date and otherscheduling issues are expected to be determined during Tuesday’sconference.

“It is a conference to set dates on what will be done,” Fernaldsaid.

Citing potential conflicts with other court matters, Patten hasrecused himself from the case. Judge John C. Ross Jr., of Corinth,will preside over the Tuesday hearing and the rest of the city’sannexation trial.

“In looking at this case, in my estimation, it will probablytake two weeks,” Patten said.

Patten said setting aside that much time would prevent importantchild custody, divorce and other chancery court matters from beingheard in a timely manner. Also, pointing out that cases are alreadybeing set for July, the judge indicated that scheduling a time forthe annexation trial would be difficult.

“Docket management is a difficult thing in chancery courtbecause of the number of cases,” said Patten, whose court districtincludes Lincoln and Copiah counties.

Attorneys are anticipating an annexation trial sometime in thefall.

So far, 79 names, either as individuals or as families, arelisted on objector forms in opposition to the city expansion plans.The vast majority of objectors live outside the city in theproposed annexation area, although there are some objectors who arecity residents.

Fernald said Tuesday’s conference would also be a time to findout which objectors will be represented by attorneys.

So far, Fernald said Hattiesburg attorney Jerry Evans, who isrepresenting some of the objectors, is the only attorney to file anotice of appearance in the case. Fernald said he and Mills plannedto meet with Evans Tuesday morning prior to the statusconference.

According to demographic data about the proposed annexation, theexpansion would increase the city’s land area from 7.3 square milesto 23.9 square miles. In terms of population, the total would risefrom the current 9,861 to 13,198.