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Taxpayer costs adding up in legal fight over Jackson airport

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Taxpayers have spent more than $400,000 so far in the legal battle over control of the airport in Mississippi’s largest city.

The expenses Monday, based on figures provided by both sides in the fight. A federal lawsuit was filed in 2016 after Gov. Phil Bryant signed a law to remove the city of Jackson’s role in appointing board members for Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport. The law said the board would be replaced by a new one with members from the city of Jackson and Madison and Rankin counties.

Jackson and airport officials call the law a hostile takeover by the state. Republican state Sen. Josh Harkins of Flowood, who wrote the bill, has said no one is taking anything from Jackson. Harkins said Jackson would continue to receive tax revenue from the airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it won’t consider approving any change in the structure of the airport board until the legal battle is resolved. No trial date has been set, and attorneys for both sides are arguing over discovery documents. Meanwhile, legal fees continue to climb.

Private and on-staff attorneys are working on the case for the state, Jackson Municipal Airport Authority, Jackson and other entities.

Federal court documents show the private law firm of Butler Snow representing Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, and the Wise, Carter, Child and Caraway law firm representing the one former and seven current lawmakers named in the lawsuit. On the other side, Phelps Dunbar law firm is representing the airport board. Smaller law firms are also working on the lawsuit.

Reeves spokeswoman Laura Hipp said in late May that the state has spent $137,669 on the case.

“The state’s role in the legislative process must be defended, and in the end we will win, but in the meantime the lawyers for the city and JMAA continue to get paid,” Hipp said.

Jackson Municipal Airport Authority Chief Executive Officer Carl Newman said the airport authority has paid legal fees of $272,309.

“Protecting the assets of JMAA is far from frivolous,” Henley said in response to Hipp’s statement. “The hiring of three outside law firms when the state could have used the attorney general’s office to defend the suit is absurd. We’ll let the public decide.”