On Monday, Aug. 22, Judge Catherine Woods heard oral arguments regarding Pima County’s motion to dismiss the suit brought by the Goldwater Institute that challenged the legality of the World View Enterprises deal. Pima County was represented by attorneys Regina Nassen and Andrew Flagg, while the plaintiffs were represented by attorneys Jim Manley and Veronica Thorsen of the Goldwater Institute.
The hearing was to decide if the case should be dismissed or proceed. Both Ms. Nassen and Mr. Manley had submitted briefings to the court which were reviewed by Judge Woods in advance. The arguments were presented in open court on Monday by both sides, giving the judge an opportunity to ask questions. Nassen presented first, then Manley, then a rebuttal by Nassen.
Nassen spent most of the time arguing as if the case was in the trial phase instead of arguing in favor of dismissal. She argued specific interpretations of statutes, terms, and standing. When arguing for dismissal, those sorts of things asserted by the plaintiff are assumed to be true so that the focus of the hearing can be narrowed to whether or not there is a case to be made. When Manley spoke, his first statement was to make that point. He then went on to address the arguments made by Nassen.
Much of the discussion centered around interpretations of ARS 11-256, which deals the leasing of county lands and buildings, and ARS 11-254.4, which deals with county spending for economic development. Ms. Nassen argued that the county was operating under ARS 11254.4 which supersedes ARS 11-256. Mr. Manley argued that both statutes are in effect and should be read together, noting that the county has previously complied with ARS 11-256 after ARS 11-254.4 was passed.
The county also asserted that the filing of the suit by Goldwater was too late—approximately two months after the deal with World View was passed by the Board of Supervisors. Judge Woods stated that Goldwater presented the court with a “very detailed and sophisticated complaint,” and that the time was not excessive.
At the end of the hearing, Judge Woods denied three of the four counts in the motion to dismiss. The other count which involved the “Gift Clause” in the Arizona Constitution, was taken under advisement. Judge Woods stated that she thought she would decide on that from the bench, but information provided by both sides lead her to decide to study both the contracts and the allegations in the complaint in more detail. Nassen asserted that there is no gift since World View will pay for the building in full over time, and that in the case of default, the county will retain ownership of the building and property. Manley asserted that both the lease deal, which was far better for World View than any product available in the private sector, and the near-total control of the launch pad, for which the county was not compensated, constituted gifts.
I had an opportunity to ask Manley three questions often asked by the public. Many ask why Manley did not seek an injunction to stop construction on the project. He stated, “If the county wants to build a building/pad, it is free to do so. Our goal is not to stop the construction, but to ensure that the county does not give the building and pad away to World View without adequate compensation and protection for taxpayers.” When asked why he did not request a change in venue, he replied, “I think yesterday's ruling demonstrates that Arizona judges can be fair and impartial, even on high-profile matters.” Finally, given that construction is well underway, many wonder what remedies might might be available, to which he said, “We are asking the court to enjoin the county from performing the lease, the balloon pad operating agreement, and the design and construction contracts. Practically speaking, that means all those contracts would need to be renegotiated in compliance with Arizona law.”
Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said in a press release following the hearing that he still expected the county to prevail when the case goes to trial:
While Judge Woods is still considering one of the Goldwater Institute’s assertions, her denial of our motion to dismiss three of Goldwater’s four claims means this case will proceed. This was not a decision on the merits of the Goldwater Institute’s allegations. It simply means Judge Woods believes that enough facts are in dispute to warrant the case moving forward.
It should be noted that last year, the County sued the state of Arizona over an unconstitutional attempt to fund public schools with county taxes and asked the state Supreme Court to take the case due to the urgency of impending state and County budget deadlines. The Supreme Court denied the request and the case proceeded in Superior Court. Pima County ultimately prevailed.
Similarly, we remain confident that after all the evidence has been presented, it will be apparent that Pima County acted fully under the authority of state law and within the discretion of the Board of Supervisors. These allegations will be exposed as little more than an ideologically motivated campaign to damage Pima County’s efforts to grow our economy and bring good-paying jobs to our community.