Judge sets next dates on streetcar legal challenge

A Jackson County judge on Monday gave an attorney until noon on March 8 to file arguments on why she should not dismiss his legal challenge to the streetcar funding.

Judge Peggy Stevens McGraw said she would set a hearing on the matter for the week after that – if needed.

Two Downtown property owners filed the January lawsuit contending the Downtown sales tax and property tax approved to fund the $100 million streetcar system are illegal.

They contend the vote for them violated constitutional rights because it did not allow voting by property owners there who do not live in the streetcar transportation district area. They also say the vote improperly stacks another 1-cent sales tax on top of an existing 1-cent sales tax for the Power & Light District transportation district.

The Downtown Streetcar Transportation Development District contends the challenge was filed too late under state election law and should be dismissed. They asked for expedited handling of the matter so bonds can be sold for construction at optimal rates.

Bob Hamilton, streetcar district attorney, argued Monday that Jackson County Judge Charles Atwell ruled in April that the voting process was constitutional and the lawsuit amounts to “judge shopping.”

As far as the issue, he said, “It’s been looked at – it’s decided.”

The property owners did not contest Atwell’s ruling and did not take action before a deadline to challenge the vote, Hamilton said. To give them that latitude now would seem to imply people could wait to sue until streetcars are built and running years later, he said. “That makes absolutely no sense.”

Mark Bredemeier, attorney for plaintiffs Sue Anne Burke and Stretch/Jeffrey Rumaner, argued that the constitutional issues took precedent and applied separately from the election law and its deadline.

The case raises unresolved legal issues of how far the transportation district laws can go, Bredemeier said.

“These folks need to have their day in court and some semblance of due process,” he said of his clients.

But Bredemeier agreed to move forward quickly and to file his arguments by March 8.

Lawyers for the streetcar district said that if the judge dismisses the lawsuit and Bredemeier appeals, it could go directly to the Missouri Supreme Court. They also said they would ask that plaintiffs put up a substantial bond as part of any appeal.


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