Friday, April 25, 2008

Judge protects status quo, nixes Hanover Project referendum

A Maricopa County Superior Court Judge sided with the developers of the Hanover Project, ruling that the political committee that was formed to force a referendum on the Scottsdale City Council's approval of the project was not a legal committee.

The judge's ruling hinged on the claim by the developer's attorneys that the group in question, Height and Density, didn't state that it opposed the project as required by state law, and that invalidated the petitions.

From the AZ Republic article on the ruling -
A referendum challenging the Hanover downtown redevelopment project was thrown out late Thursday, allowing the project to proceed.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Swann ruled that an activist group calling itself Height and Density was not a legal committee and that made the petitions it filed to put the Hanover project before the voters invalid.

[Note - The EV Tribune's coverage is here.]

At the end of the proceedings, the City stated that it would not appeal the ruling if the developers declined to seek compensation for the attorney's fees that it incurred in the case.

An interesting aspect of the case is that the Scottsdale's City Attorney's office was tasked with defending the petitions and the group; if their defense was successful, it would have set the stage to have a City decision overturned by the voters.

While I can't comment on the technical aspects of the ruling (I'm not sure of the precise requirements of notification in the law), I can state that I never saw the group (Height and Density) try to conceal its opposition to the Hanover Project in any way; in fact, they were totally open, even blunt, about it.

Another interesting aspect of the case, even to those unfamiliar with the technical aspects cited in the ruling - the judge, Peter Swann, and the developer, The Hanover Companies, run in the same circles, as indicated by this flyer for a construction/development industry legal seminar from 2006. Both the judge in this case and a representative from Hanover were presenters on different panels.

So let me sum up -

The organization defending the petitions (the Scottsdale City Attorney's office) had a vested interested in not winning the case, and the judge presiding over the case (Judge Swann) is part of a professional clique that includes developers (such as Hanover) but not average citizens.

Let me be clear here - I am *not* alleging corruption or anything illegal here, just that it's hard to believe that Height and Density, or any citizen group, ever had a chance at a fair hearing.

The system just isn't set up to allow it.


Phoenix Blogger said...

I'm sure the issue relates to a technicality on the wording of the petition and/or the related filings. The lesson is to have a really good election attorney help you draft the materials - don't rely on pro bono volunteers.

That said, both your points are valid.

cpmaz said...

I'm pretty sure you're correct about the ruling being based on paperwork errors, but having seen neither the petitions nor the actual ruling, I can only speculate too.

You're right about having pros, or at least experienced campaigners, doublecheck the paperwork before submission.