9:58- Welcome to our live coverage of the Yakima hearing at the La Paz Superior Court. The hearing is on Yakima’s ‘motion to compel’ the County to pay it’s debt to the company. A ‘Special Master’ may be appointed to facilitate discerning which funds can be used to pay Yakima, and to potentially decide – working with both parties and answerable to the court – which assets the County could sell in payment. this process would essentially press the County into an arrangement with Yakima, since all negotiations appear to have failed.
10:03- Judge is seated.
10:05- Lawyers introduced. A separate ‘motion to intervene’ is tabled until early May.
10:09- Yakima’s attorneys are making oral arguments. “The County spent the last few years trying to undo that Judgment. …. Since [the Judgment was finalized] the County has done nothing …. We are asking you to order the County to pay the Judgment.”
10:15- There are at least three parts to the request: (1) The County put aside funds right now to pay a portion of the $13m; (2) The court appoint a Special Master to ensure action by the County; (3) The County start to raise money to pay the Judgment, perhaps from selling nonessential County property.
10:18- Yakima believes it is in the power of the Judge sitting today to order that the County sell its landfill.
10:19- The County’s inaction, argues the Yakima lawyer, is the best evidence of the need for an order to compel.
10:20- The Judge is listing the things Yakima wants. Immediate payment, a Special Master, identifying funds that aren’t necessary services, and ordering the County to raise money from “all available sources.”
10:24- Yakima says it would be happy with an order for payment in part today, as long as it’s accompanied by an order that the County “begin in earnest” looking for other funds with which to pay the debt.
10:25- Yakima cites an upcoming ten year anniversary of the original contract dispute in an effort to persuade the Judge that he needs to act.
10:27- They want “unappropriated cash”; ie. cash not already marked for use in essential services of the County. They believe the County has $3 million they could hand over. (This figure comes from a recent settlement offer from the County, which would be raised from bonds.)
10:29- The Yakima attorney is discussing who may be an appropriate Special Master. He is wrapping up his argument.
10:30- Now a recess while the Judge takes a phonecall. Back soon.
11:07- Some movement now, as the telephone parties come back on the line. We should be back with the County’s arguments shortly.
11:08- Judge is seated and the County’s attorney is on his feet. He says the County’s recent offer to settle for $3m was not to be made from unappropriated funds, but would have come from selling bonds.
11:12- The County says the dispute boils down to the timing and scope of the court’s involvement. The County says that Yakima wants the Court “to jump in right away” after the Judgment became final, and force the County to pay.
11:15- He says the County has stated many times that it has no unappropriated funds. “We felt confident we could borrow $3 million,” and Yakima rejected the offer to settle.
11:18- Some haggling over what previous court decisions mean (“Hodgkins” etc.). The County is also concerned that the Special Master / court would need to decide, line by line, which government services are essential and which are not.
11:19- “For instance, the Special Master may think a Sheriff’s Department is an essential government service but that it has too many Deputies …. or they need more motorcycles and less cars …. the list is endless” and would leave the court essentially governing the County rather than it’s elected Board of Supervisors.
11:25- “Yakima wants the Special Master or the court to supplant … the elected Board of Supervisors.”
11:28- “The County is not refusing to pay, we are working diligently … on finding ways to pay this Judgment.” He cites a bad economy as one reason for the difficulty.
11:29- The County argues that the Judgment only became final in November. Before that, there was an appeals process. The County is working on a budget, he says. (The essential claim is that Yakima is making an unprecedented motion in interruption of the County’s budgeting process without giving it time to allocate money for the Judgment.)
11:32- He says Yakima is mischaracterizing the County’s position, giving the impression that the County is “thumbing it’s nose” at Yakima and the court; that this is not true.
11:37- “If the court decides to appoint a Special Master against the County’s objections, [it should be our nominee rather than Yakima’s].”
11:39- The Judge is now asking questions. He’s asking the attorneys for the County about their budgeting plans. Does their budgeting include paying Yakima? He says yes, and some of the considerations include paying Yakima in full through bonds, within a year or two.
11:42- The Judge is asking whether the County has a rainy day fund or contingency fund. The lawyer replies he doesn’t know for sure, but his understanding is that there are no unappropriated funds.
11:43- Yakima responds. We are hearing, the attorney says, that the County can sell bonds for $3m immediately. “If that involves some adjustments in other spending, well that’s just part of life.”
11:45- “This is something the County certainly had the ability to plan for …. it was irresponsible. that’s really the biggest reason we’re here. …. They’re saying we’ll get around to it. You don’t need to tell us what to do. …. That’s just not good enough.”
11:49- Yakima: “If we leave with nothing else, we should leave with an order that the Judgment bs paid in a time certain.”
11:52- Yakima: “We’re suspicious when the County says … [they’ll pay in their own time].”
11:53- Judge: “Who pays for the Special Master?” Yakima says it will share the cost if it results in payment; the County says it has grave concerns about having one at all with the kind of powers Yakima wants to give it.
11:55- Judge: “A lot of this has to do with timing… I have a lot of concern about what the role of the court would be… It isn’t really the court’s job in any of this [to do some of the things requested…]”
12:00- Judge: “The tension between what the court can do and what [elected governments are supposed to do … is tricky]”; the court is going to issue a judgment in writing by the end of next week.
12:01- On the other points…
12:02- Yakima: “If they don’t want to open up the checkbook, they should open up their [books] and show us they have no money.”
12:04- “Now is the time for us to find out if there is a way for Yakima to be paid….”. The attorney argues that there are solutions which could pay Yakima earlier and ones which could pay it later; “we’re entitled to know”.
12:07- “If I sound frustrated and irritated, it’s because we have thirteen million reasons to be.”
12:12- “If the court ordered that the County had to pay the Judgment by, say, December 31st, 2012, would you still need to see the books?” The lawyer replies yes, because it doesn’t trust that that would happen.
12:15- County continues to argue, from legal precedent, that the motions to compel are not appropriate in this case.
12:20- The Judge is talking legal procedure.
12:22- The County is arguing that only a “discovery special master” may be appropriate to prove to Yakima the lack of unappropriated funds.
12:24- Judge asks if the County can provide documents within 20 days. The County says yes, mostly (there may be a few with objections). “We would be able to provide substantive information…”
12:30- Discussion about a ‘debtor’s exam’ of the County and who may act as witnesses.
12:37- The Judge says he may issue an order requiring the County to bring general records to deposition.
12:41- The Judge won’t be available for a few weeks upcoming and he’d like to leave the parties with a deposition date whereby the County will “be bringing [Yakima] a wheelbarrow full of records”.
12:43- They’re going to recess while lawyers discuss a date. The motions are technically ‘under advisement.’
That’s all for now! Parker Live will post any orders arising from this hearing as soon as we have them.