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University leaders: Federal DATA Act redundant, expensive

July 5th, 2011 1 comment

A bill making its way through Congress would digitize and consolidate the system used to track federal spending, but the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities says it duplicates existing systems and adds another layer of expense to critical university research projects.
The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act — or DATA Act — would apply tracking requirements similar to those attached to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to federal grants, loans, contracts and the internal expenses of every federal agency.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform cleared the bill June 22 after a mark-up session. It now awaits action on the full House floor.
Rep. Darrell Issa, D-Calif., who chairs the Oversight Committee said the DATA Act would bring financial transparency for every government agency into the digital age, leaving behind the cumbersome process of procuring paper records in favor of a centralized database.
The problem with that, though, is that Mississippi’s Institutions of Higher Learning is already in the process of establishing a database that serves an identical purpose, said Don Zant, vice president for budget and planning at Mississippi State University. The IHL, per the terms of a law passed in the last legislative session, must have the database up and running by July 1, 2012. Like its potential federal sister, the state database would track spending by every state agency, and offer searchable, customizable results. Individual transactions would be available, to go with full audits and reports. The transactions have to be on the website within 14 days of the applicable action. The database would include records starting with fiscal year 2010.
IHL spokesperson Caron Blanton said getting the database operational will cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars “but most likely won’t exceed $500,000.” That figure does not include regular maintenance once the site is up and running.
Zant told the Mississippi Business Journal in an interview last Monday that even without the state mandate to formulate a database that would track the spending and results of every research project at Mississippi universities, there already exist several levels of federal oversight. Any university that receives federal funding for any purpose is subject to annual audits.
“Not only that, but pick a federal agency – transportation, education, public safety, you name it. They will do audits or monitoring visits for these projects,” Zant said. “It happens all the time. Plus the IHL already consolidates all the audits for the public universities, and they’re available for anybody to see. There’s already a lot of scrutiny and accountability.
“If we have to turn around and develop another database just like the one we’re already building, you’re talking about another major expense.”
The Association of Public and Land Grant Universities and the Council on Government Relations cited preliminary data being gathered by the Federal Demonstration Partnership, a cooperative initiative among federal agencies, that ARRA’s reporting requirements for university research-related money cost $87 million for 100 research institutions that were awarded the grants. According to the same figures, that comes to $7,900 per research award.
“The cost of control should never outweigh the benefit you’re going to receive,” Zant said. “If we already do this on a state level, what benefit would we get from doing the same thing because of a federal law? I think the intentions are good, but it’s possibly a lack of understanding of the controls already in place.
“Accountability and transparency are great, and we have to have it, but duplicating it on two different levels is just unnecessary and will be extremely expensive.”

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Sponsorship talks on hold until after tourney

June 28th, 2011 No comments

There’s very little that we know for sure about the negotiations to either keep Viking Range Corp. as the title sponsor of the Viking Classic, or to find a new one.
What is certain is that Randy Watkins, tournament director, and his team will not resume talks with anybody until after the tournament is over. The Viking tees off July 11 with the pre-tourney events; the first round starts July 14.
Watkins said the PGA Tour has given him a soft deadline of late August to reach a deal with a title sponsor. How rigid that deadline is unclear, even to Watkins.
“I don’t know because I’ve never pushed it,” he said. “I know we’re aiming at it.”
The Tour will release its full 2012 schedule in November, so it would seem having the title sponsor on board by then would be imperative.
As for who that company is, Watkins offered precious few hints. To go with Viking, the companies Watkins has had negotiations with are household names, he said, and at least some are based in Mississippi. “All I can say is we’re working with (Viking) and others who have expressed interest. I don’t know if it’s unlikely (that Viking will not re-up), but there’s just nothing to be said one way or the other right now.”
This is Viking’s fifth year as the title sponsor. Southern Farm Bureau flew its flag before that; and prior to that, the old Deposit Guaranty bank had its name on the door. Watkins said the total cost — including cash and personnel costs — associated with the title sponsorship is “close to a $1 million.”
The Viking tees off a full two months earlier than it has in recent years. That’s good, Watkins said, because it guarantees all four rounds will be broadcast live by the Golf Channel, and it assures the tournament will be a part of the FedEx Cup.
But the earlier date also constricts by about 100 days the negotiating window Watkins had with potential sponsors. “It would have been nice to have that extra time, but the TV exposure and the FedEx Cup make up for that,” he said.

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Tax dispute could end up where it began

June 28th, 2011 No comments

The fight over ad valorem tax revenue in Pascagoula and Jackson County could come full circle next legislative session if the Mississippi Supreme Court rules against the Pascagoula School District.
The court heard oral arguments June 13 in a dispute between the school district and the county over the distribution of ad valorem tax revenue collected from the Gulf LNG terminal and an expansion of the Chevron refinery.
The money is split among school districts in Pascagoula, Ocean Springs, Jackson County and Moss Point. Pascagoula schools sued in an attempt to keep all the revenue within its district. The court is expected to issue a ruling before the end of the year.
If the court sides with the county, and the city seeks a legislative remedy, negotiations would have to be more fruitful than they were when the law was first passed in 2007.
Former Sen. Tommy Robertson filed the bill that launched 1,000 legal briefs on a Saturday less than a week before the end of the 2007 session, attaching it to an appropriations bill.
Robertson said in an interview last week that he met with Pascagoula School District superintendent Wayne Rodolfich and a handful of other Pascagoula officials the next day, and then again a day or two later, in an effort to reach a compromise.
“I offered for 50 percent of the new monies generated from the LNG and Chevron expansion be retained by the Pascagoula School District and the remainder be distributed among the Ocean Springs School District, the Jackson County School District and the Moss Point School District. I gave them a deadline of Thursday at 3 p.m., never will forget that. And Mr. Rodolfich and his attorney told me they would not take the deal. They just told me they wanted it all. When they told me that and they rejected my offer, I went to work. This whole mess could have been avoided.”
Robertson’s work resulted in Pascagoula, which receives about $14 million annually from the existing Chevron facility, having to share the new money with the other three school districts, with the amount based on an enrollment-driven formula.
Robertson said the revenue sharing is fair because the LNG terminal and the expanded refinery sit on land that is owned by the county. The land is not in the city limits, he said, but is surrounded by the Pascagoula School District.
Rodolfich told the Mississippi Business Journal last week that what initially alarmed him over Robertson’s bill was its timing, coming less than a week before session’s end and giving stakeholders and other lawmakers precious little time to review it.
Still, he and Robertson met with the goal of reaching a meeting of the minds, but to no avail.
“I made an effort to reach a compromise with Tommy Robertson,” Rodolfich said. “The compromise was for him to remove (the bill) and let cooler heads prevail and let it go through all the steps of the Legislature. None of that was done.”
Rodolfich added that Robertson’s offer to increase Pascagoula’s share of the tax money “just showed how arbitrary this whole thing is.”
Sen. Michael Watson, R-Pascagoula, who now holds the seat Robertson held in 2007, said he began meeting with leadership from each of the school districts near year’s-end in 2008, just before the start of the 2009 legislative session, with the same goal: to reach a compromise. But the result was also the same, he said: The Pascagoula School District balked at any form of revenue sharing.
“They weren’t really amenable to that,” Watson said. “They wanted no part of a compromise. They put up a stiff-arm.”
Should the court rule in favor of the county and the city seek to change the law in the Legislature, Watson said he would not support any bill that funnels all the money to Pascagoula.
“Sharing this money is the right thing to do,” he said.
Watson said he would be willing to support bumping up Pascagoula’s take, and to try to clarify language in the law that lowers tax payments based on depreciation in the value of equipment at each of the facilities.
Rodolfich was noncommittal when asked if he could live with any sort of revenue-sharing arrangement.
“That would ultimately be the school board’s decision.”
Rep. Brandon Jones, D-Pascagoula, who has filed bills that would repeal the distribution law, did not return messages left on his cell phone last week.

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Feds clear way for Choctaw casino in Jackson County, but …

June 28th, 2011 1 comment

If the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians has any designs on building a casino in Jackson County, the recent ruling from the Bureau of Indian Affairs is good news.
The bad news? Gov. Haley Barbour, whose approval would be needed, said last week the project would not receive it.
On June 14, assistant secretary for Indian affairs Larry Echo Hawk rescinded a 2008 memorandum that restricted off-reservation gaming for Indian tribes across the U.S. The memorandum was one of the major roadblocks the Choctaws encountered in 2006 when they first considered building a casino on 60 acres off Highway 57 near Ocean Springs. The nearly 200-mile distance from the site in Jackson County to the Choctaws’ principal reservation in Neshoba County was deemed too far by former Indian Affairs secretary Carl Artman. Other Indian tribes that had sought off-reservation gaming permits from the BIA in 2008 were also denied.
“The 2008 guidance memorandum was unnecessary and was issued without the benefit of tribal consultation,” Echo Hawk said in a press release announcing its reversal.
The lifting of that restriction means that, in theory, the Choctaws have been given the green light by the federal government to take preliminary steps toward building and opening a casino in Jackson County. But a provision in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requires consent from each state’s governor, and Barbour said last week that he would be opposed to the Choctaws having a gaming presence in Jackson County, the only county on the Coast where casino gambling is prohibited.
In 2007, Jackson County voters approved a nonbinding referendum that stood in opposition to the casino.
“In Mississippi, that should dispose of the issue,” Barbour said. “I have consistently opposed any expansion of gaming beyond the counties where they have it now.”
It was unknown last week what intentions the Choctaws had for Jackson County. Multiple phone messages left with the public information office of the Choctaws’ Tribal Affairs division went unreturned.
To go with Barbour’s approval, the Choctaws would have to hold public comment hearings, and the BIA would have to conclude that the casino would be in the best interests of both the Choctaws and the surrounding community.
Jackson County supervisor John McKay, whose district includes the land owned by the Choctaws, said he had already heard from constituents.
“There’s already opposition, and there’s not even anything to oppose yet. We’ve had no discussion with (the Choctaws). I would anticipate hearing from them eventually, but not in the near future.”
Waiting until Barbour leaves office in January to pursue the project might not change the Choctaws’ luck. Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant voiced his opposition to the proposed casino during his campaign in 2007. Bryant spokesperson Mick Bullock said last week that hasn’t changed.
Dave Dennis, one of Bryant’s opponents in the Republican gubernatorial primary, also opposes the idea of a casino in Jackson County.
“The citizens of Jackson County have spoken loud and clear that they do not want a casino in their county and as governor I would not authorize such expansion,” he said.
Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree, who’s seeking the governor’s office as a Democrat, echoed Dennis and Bryant.
“As a mayor and a former supervisor, I know the importance of home rule and allowing the people to govern their own communities,” he said. “In most cases, I will defer to the will of the people in local communities. This would be one of those cases.”
One of Dupree’s opponents in the Democratic primary, Bill Luckett, had not responded to a message seeking comment by the Mississippi Business Journal’s press time last week.

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Attorney who argued against damages cap in Mississippi loses identical case in West Virginia

June 23rd, 2011 No comments

A lawyer friend of Magnolia Marketplace just passed along a ruling from the West Virginia Supreme Court, in which the justices found that the state’s cap on compensatory damages for noneconomic losses was constitutional.

Like it would in Mississippi, the decision represents a major victory for the business community in West Virginia. What’s most interesting to Mississippi stakeholders, though, is that one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, who argued against the cap, is Robert Peck. If that name sounds familiar, it should. Peck was in Mississippi last week to argue against the state’s $1 million noneconomic damages cap before our supreme court. He used a lot of the same argument in West Virginia as he did here.

The ruling can be found here.

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Viking Classic sponsorship talks on hold until tournament’s end

June 22nd, 2011 No comments

There’s very little that we know for sure about the negotiations to either keep Viking Range Corp. as the title sponsor of the Viking Classic, or to find a new one.

What is certain is that Randy Watkins, tournament director, and his team will not resume talks with anybody until after the tournament is over. The Viking tees off July 11 with the pre-tourney events; the first round starts July 14.

Watkins told Magnolia Marketplace Wednesday morning that the PGA Tour has given him a soft deadline of late August to reach a deal with a title sponsor. How rigid that deadline is unclear, even to Watkins.

“I don’t know because I’ve never pushed it,” he said. “I know we’re aiming at it.”

The Tour will release its full 2012 schedule in November, so it would seem having the title sponsor on board by then would be imperative.

As for who that company is, Watkins offered precious few hints. To go with Viking, the companies Watkins has had negotiations with are household names, he said, and at least some are based in Mississippi. “All I can say is we’re working with (Viking) and others who have expressed interest. I don’t know if it’s unlikely (that Viking will not re-up), but there’s just nothing to be said one way or the other right now.”

This is Viking’s fifth year as the title sponsor. Southern Farm Bureau flew its flag before that; and prior to that, the old Deposit Guaranty bank had its name on the door. Watkins said the total cost — including cash and personnel costs — associated with the title sponsorship is “close to a $1 million.”

The Viking tees off a full two months earlier than it has in recent years. That’s good, Watkins said, because it guarantees all four rounds will be broadcast live by the Golf Channel, and it assures the tournament will be a part of the FedEx Cup.

But the earlier date also constricts by about 100 days the negotiating window Watkins had with potential sponsors. “It would have been nice to have that extra time, but the TV exposure and the FedEx Cup make up for that,” he said.

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Waiting game begins for damages cap fight

June 19th, 2011 No comments

The Mississippi Supreme Court last week heard oral arguments about the constitutionality of the state’s $1 million cap on non-economic damages in civil cases.
It’s a case whose decision will affect with equal extreme Mississippi’s business community and its plaintiffs’ bar.
The case that spawned Tuesday’s hearing – Sears & Roebuck Co. v. Lisa Learmonth – centers on a car wreck involving Learmonth, the plaintiff, who claims she was injured when she collided with a Sears van driven by one of the company’s employees. Learmonth was awarded about $4 million in punitive damages in the federal court trial, but the trial judge reduced that amount to conform with the $1 million cap. Learmonth’s attorneys appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in an attempt to get the jury’s verdict as it related to the $4 million punitive damages upheld; Sears cross-appealed asking for a new trial, claiming it wasn’t liable for the accident in which Learmonth was injured. The Fifth Circuit then certified the constitutionality of the cap to the Mississippi court.
Keeping intact the separation of powers and the right to a jury trial were the cornerstones of the arguments made by Learmonth’s attorneys.
“A recovery cannot be limited by hamstringing a jury,” said Kevin Hamilton, of Meridian. The damages cap is separate from “statutory creatures” like the Tort Claims Act and the guidelines for settling a worker’s compensation claim, both of which have limits on punitive damage payments.
Frank Citera, who represented Sears at the hearing, said the cap does not remove a remedy for a plaintiff. It simply sets “an outer limit” for a remedy a jury can award.
Justice Jim Kitchens, asked Citera, “Who is this cap working for? The business community? It’s not working for people with catastrophic injuries.”
The cap was the centerpiece of 2004’s tort reform, which Gov. Haley Barbour made the cornerstone of his first campaign. Barbour and business associations and trade groups said the cap’s removal would return Mississippi to the reputation the state had pre-tort reform as a judicial hellhole. Opponents have built their rebuttal around the constitutionality of the cap, claiming that the Legislature has no authority to tell juries how much to award or not to award in civil cases.

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Pascagoula officials mull options as Court mulls fate of tax law

June 19th, 2011 No comments

The Mississippi Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week related to a property tax distribution dispute between the City of Pascagoula and Jackson County.

While city officials await the high court’s decision, they’re mulling their options in the event the ruling doesn’t go their way.

The fight over the allocation of ad valorem tax revenue generated by new facilities at Pascagoula’s Chevron refinery began in 2007 toward the end of the legislative session, when language that changed the distribution formula was attached to an appropriations bill. The bill essentially diverted portions of ad valorem revenue from the new refinery and liquefied natural gas facility from the Pascagoula City School District, where the facilities are located, to the Jackson County School District.

The city school district sued the county in an effort to keep that new money from flowing to the county. A Jones County chancellor ruled in favor of the county, and the city appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

The city has argued that ad valorem tax revenue generated in its school district should stay in its district. County schools counter that it badly needs the anticipated $4 million to $5 million in annual revenue to operate its district and implement the five-year plan it recently developed.

Frank Corder, who as a Pascagoula City councilman is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, told the Mississippi Business Journal last week that diverting money from city schools to county schools is “robbing Peter to pay Paul.

“It’s a money-grab. Their whole argument is that we’re being greedy. They just want what’s ours.”

For now, Corder said, the city will wait to see what the state Supreme Court decides. Until then, they’re hoping to line up support to change the distribution law in next year’s legislative session. Sen. Michael Watson, R-Pascagoula, whose district includes parts of the city but is mostly made up of Jackson County, did not return a message left on his cell phone last week. Efforts to reach Rep. Brandon Jones, D-Pascagoula, were also unsuccessful.

The county, Corder said, has already divvied up the first payment in new ad valorem revenue, whose amount was approximately $100,000.

If the Supreme Court does rule in favor of the city, city officials will evaluate its options for recouping it, Corder said, but that would depend on the legal expenses required to do so. The City Council has also authorized its school officials to seek other revenue streams related to ad valorem taxes, and not necessarily from businesses or homes within the city school district.

“(The law) allows for that,” Corder said. “We don’t want that, but if that’s the game we have to play, we’ll play it.”

Jackson County Schools superintendent Dr. Barry Amacker said the district’s enrollment is up about 600 students over pre-Katrina numbers, and the $4 million to $5 million the district is set to receive in money from the city would help fund a new middle school and a new upper elementary school that are a part of the five-year plan.

“I’m not trying to sound like we’re crying over here, but funding is a serious issue,” Amacker said, adding that the district’s annual budget hovers in the $60 million range. “We have several building projects that really need to happen. This would really help us get those jump-started, not to mention to shore up the loss of revenue from the past couple years.”

The concept of revenue sharing among public education entities is nothing new, Amacker said, pointing to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which takes general fund revenue collected from across the state and distributes it to school districts based on a formula that leans heavily on enrollment. Amacker admitted, however, that the Chevron allocation law is the only instance of which he is aware that takes ad valorem tax revenue generated from one specific entity in one school district and distributes it to another.

Going forward, Corder said the biggest problem would be the law’s failure to account for equipment at Chevron that will depreciate in value, lowering the amount of ad valorem revenue the city would receive from Chevron’s main facility, which pumps about $14 million annually into city schools coffers.

Corder couldn’t rule out the possibility of a future millage increase to make up the difference.

“Our taxpayers will be punished,” he said. “And taxpayers (in the county school district) will most likely see a reduction in their millage because of the revenue that we’re generating.”

What makes the allocation fair, Amacker said, is that the redistribution formula only addresses new investment at Chevron, and holds harmless the revenue Pascagoula has received from the main facility since it opened in the early 1960s.

“Pascagoula has been getting all of the (Chevron) money forever. They’re still going to get it. We’re still getting a very small amount of the big picture. Our kids deserve it. If we were taking something off of Pascagoula’s table, that would be different.”

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River ports start recovery process, begin crunching the clean-up numbers

June 19th, 2011 No comments

Varying degrees of recovery started last week at ports along the Mississippi River.

Having spent the better part of a month underwater, there were similar plans of action at each: Assess the damage, get it repaired and resume normal operations as quickly as possible.

The steel loading facility at the Greenville Port opened LAST Wednesday, said executive director Tommy Hart, but it will be this week at the earliest that the grain loading facility can come back online.

“Before we do that, we have to inspect the railroad track,” Hart said.

Hart, whose port closed May 2, began the process LAST Wednesday with FEMA officials of evaluating the cost of clean-up.

“You’ve got to carefully qualify that,” Hart said. “The issue I have is that a lot of this damage really won’t show up until weeks and months into the future, especially in our road and rail and dock services.”

That was the case after the flood of 2008, when the railroad tracks took on water and later split once operations resumed, the ground beneath them weakened from having been submerged for a prolonged period.

Hart would like to avoid that this time around, or at least have some financial help if and when a similar scenario occurs. Most assistance programs have a shelf life of only a few weeks.

“It’s just going to increase our maintenance costs, and there’s no assistance for that, not that I’m aware of,” Hart said. “We’re going to see if considerations can be given for that. Then, of course, you get into the position of having to prove that the damage was caused by the flood.”

In lost business alone, Hart estimated the port took a hit between $300,000 and $400,000 “just in terminal revenue,” which does not take into account that money being turned over down the supply chain once it leaves the facility.

“We had several companies that had to close completely. A lot of them were a mile and a half away from land. They were completely underwater.”

At the Vicksburg Port, last Monday afternoon marked the first time water levels allowed engineers to inspect almost every part of the facility. Port executive director Wayne Mansfield said the railroad that runs to the terminal, an overhead crane and storage warehouses seemed to have suffered the most damage. No part of the port has reopened since closing in the first week of May.

The port’s T-dock, the primary loading and unloading platform, is in relatively good shape, and had been given the green light for use. “We’ve got a bunch of barges stacked up on it,” Mansfield said.

Water levels need to fall to about 43 feet — flood stage is 42 feet — before engineers can reach the bridge crane, something Mansfield hopes will happen early this week.

“Our engineers are working on a preliminary report right now, based on what they’ve been able to inspect so far,” Mansfield said. “I don’t know when we’ll have any of the repairs completed. I hope to have the engineers report (Monday) so we can start looking at some of the costs. But we’ll have to do it in a phased process.”

Only two out of about 50 industries that use the port — LeTourneau Technologies and the International Paper Mill — had to shut down, Mansfield said.

Mansfield didn’t have an exact figure for business interruption costs, but said it would likely be a “minimum of $500,000. Then you have all the indirect costs, like your trucks and rail to move the product.”

The facility that made it the cleanest to the other side of the flood was the Natchez-Adams County Port. Anthony Hauer, port director, said the liquid loading dock was the only infrastructure that took on any water “but the best we can tell so far is that it didn’t have any damage to it.” The liquid loading dock was built to a slightly lower elevation than the concrete general cargo docks.

What little threat the port had of closing evaporated when the Morganza and Bonnet Carre spillways were opened in Louisiana, Hauer said.

“The roadways were never closed, we worked our distribution and warehousing as if it was just another day. We never went underwater.”

The news wasn’t nearly as good in Yazoo City. The Yazoo County Port along the Yazoo River closed in late April, said Henry Cote, executive director of the Yazoo County Chamber of Commerce.

Its timeline for reopening is less certain than its counterparts along the Mississippi River, because the Yazoo River’s banks are sinking along with the water.

“Right now my biggest problem is we’ve got a massive land slide and erosion around the liquid dock and the dry dock,” Cote said. At press time Cote hoped an engineering group with sonar capabilities could evaluate the extent of the erosion late last week. At least some dredging will have to be done before barge traffic can resume, he said.

“We just won’t know how much until the sonar is put on it. What I do know is that dredging is very, very expensive and not an easy process to get through.”

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Next phase of tort damages cap fight? The waiting game

June 14th, 2011 No comments

The Mississippi Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday morning about the constitutionality of the state’s $1 million cap on non-economic damages in civil cases.

Magnolia Marketplace isn’t a lawyer, so you’re not going to find much in the way of legal analysis or a prediction here on which way the court rule.

What is clear is that there probably is no single issue for Mississippi’s business community more important than this one. It’s probably equally important to Mississippi’s plaintiffs’ bar.

The case that spawned Tuesday’s hearing – Sears & Roebuck Co. v. Lisa Learmonth – centers on a car wreck involving Learmonth, the plaintiff, who claims she was injured when she collided with a Sears van driven by one of the company’s employees. Learmonth was awarded about $4 million in punitive damages in the federal court trial, but the trial judge reduced that amount to conform with the $1 million cap. Learmonth’s attorneys appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in an attempt to get the jury’s verdict as it related to the $4 million punitive damages upheld; Sears cross-appealed asking for a new trial, claiming it wasn’t liable for the accident in which Learmonth was injured. The Fifth Circuit then certified the constitutionality of the cap to our Supreme Court.

If you’re scoring at home, Chief Justice Bill Waller and Presiding Justice Jess Dickenson were the most active as far as questioning the attorneys from both sides. Both seemed a little more skeptical of the argument made by Sears’ attorneys, that the cap did not violate the right to a jury trial, and that the cap did not violate constitutionally outlined separation of powers among the branches of government.

Keeping intact the separation of powers and the right to a jury trial were the cornerstones of the arguments made by Learmonth’s attorneys.

Very little anecdotal observations of the cap were made. The one that stood out the most came from Justice Jim Kitchens, who asked Sears counsel, “Who is this cap working for? The business community? It’s not working for people with catastrophic injuries.” Kitchens, it should be noted, sounded the most unconvinced of the nine justices that the cap was constitutionally sound, even though he asked maybe six questions during the 90-minute hearing.

The cap was the centerpiece of 2004’s tort reform, which Gov. Haley Barbour made the cornerstone of his first campaign. Barbour and business associations and trade groups said the cap’s removal would return Mississippi to the reputation the state had pre-tort reform as a judicial hellhole. Opponents have built their rebuttal around the constitutionality of the cap, claiming that the Legislature has no authority to tell juries how much to award or not to award in civil cases.

For both sides, it comes down to money. Businesses don’t want their liability insurance premiums to rise with the removal of the cap. Plaintiff lawyers would love nothing more than for 8- and 9-figure compensatory damage awards to return.

And so now they wait.

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