Missouri attorney general authorizes new lawsuit contesting Jackson annexation

Sunday, February 5, 2012

With the election set for Tuesday, a new lawsuit has been filed with the blessing of Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to contest Jackson's annexation of a strip of land along Interstate 55 and U.S. 61.

If it is eventually successful, whatever voters say about the proposed Fruitland annexation Tuesday won't matter.

On Tuesday, Jackson voters are being asked whether to allow a quarry to be annexed into the city. But it was the 2009 annexation extending the city's boundaries north that makes such an annexation possible.

That annexation has been brought into question. The lawsuit, filed Thursday, makes the same claims as one filed in November by residents of Jackson and Fruitland. Such annexations as the one Jackson made two years ago violate state law, the lawsuit says.

This lawsuit basically supersedes the previous one, lawyers said Saturday. That's because it comes with a letter from Koster's office granting the filers the rare status of "quo warranto," a legal action that is typically used to remove public officials from office for malfeasance.

The new lawsuit is brought by the same filers of some Jackson and Fruitland residents, in this case legally referred to as relators, but more lawyers have been brought on board. The firm Cook, Barkett, Ponder and Wolz has joined the Lichtenegger Law Firm to take on Jackson.

"In order to file one of these quo warranto actions, you have to get a permission letter from the attorney general," lawyer John Cook said. "We asked the attorney general to authorize our clients to bring this case, and the AG did that."

But Cook said he didn't want to give the impression that Koster agrees automatically with their side. But, he noted, the attorney general would not give permission to proceed if he did not think there was a legitimate question.

"The AG has not made a decision about whether this is a good case or a bad case," Cook said. "He's just agreed that there's enough of a question to proceed."

The lawsuit asks for an order to oust the city from the land in question and declare the 2009 annexation illegal and void.

The city has 30 days to respond before a hearing will be set before Judge Ben Lewis.

Reached at her home Saturday, Mayor Barbara Lohr said she was aware of the new lawsuit but that she had yet to see the documentation. She maintains the annexation of property along U.S. 61 and I-55 -- which would allow the Fruitland annexation because it makes the property contiguous -- is part of an orderly growth pattern for Jackson.

"And these folks asked to be annexed," she said. "It's a friendly annexation. They want to be in our city. The third point is that it will bring additional revenue to our city, but first and foremost is that it's orderly growth for our city."

Owners of a tract of about 240 acres north of Jackson containing Heartland Materials' quarry applied to join the city in October, and city officials approved a resolution to annex the area Oct. 17.

In a response to the past lawsuit, Jackson officials have said that the statute that doesn't allow such "flag" annexations -- narrow strips of land that lead to larger strips of land -- is unconstitutional.

Jackson city attorney Tom Ludwig said he has yet to see the lawsuit and wouldn't offer comment until he does. But he was irritated that the Southeast Missourian had obtained a copy that he hasn't had access to yet.

"It's interesting that the press gets a copy before opposing counsel," he said.

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

Jackson, MO

Fruitland, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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