Court date still pending for Bellevue incorporation case

By BUSTER WOLFE,

The next court action involving all parties in the proposed incorporation of Bellevue has still not been set after motions have been filed withdrawing the petition and opponents of incorporation have asked for a three-year moratorium before the request can be refiled.

Attorneys for all three sides of the incorporation – Chad Mask of Jackson and Ben Snow of Hattiesburg, who are directing the Bellevue incorporation efforts; William Ducker of Purvis, who is representing residents who oppose the incorporation, and Jerry Mills, who was hired by the City of Hattiesburg to oppose the incorporation because of the Hub City’s annexation efforts into the area – met with Senior Status Judge Michael H. Ward of Gulfport on Sept. 25 to coordinate calendars for the proceedings.

Dec. 11 was set for a status hearing in Purvis, but only Ducker attended the proceedings. Four days later, Mask filed the motion to dismiss the petition, and proposed Bellevue Mayor John Adcock said incorporators want to add more signatures to the petition to fortify the legal standing of the document.

Ducker then filed a motion for the moratorium and the payment of legal fees.

Lamar County residents who are opposing the incorporation of Bellevue claim that the petition for incorporation is about 1,000 signatures short of the number required by law to complete the process. The petition for incorporating a town – which was presented to the Lamar County Chancery Clerk’s Office on May 19 – must have signatures of at least two thirds of the qualified electors in the area.

According to examination by the citizens group, the 4,118-page petition contains 2,184 signatures, about 300 short of the required number. With another 600 signatures that appeared to be invalid, the petition appears to fall between 900 and 1,000 signatures short of the required number.

Other dates that were reconciled at the Sept. 25 meeting – the only legal proceeding that has included all principals so far – include an April 18, 2018, pretrial hearing in Purvis to exchange exhibits; a May 2, 2018, pretrial conference in Hattiesburg and the weeks of May 7 and 14, 2018, for the jurisdictional procedure in the case.

During these two weeks, the signatures on the petition for Bellevue incorporation would have been verified. Then the second phase of the case – if the jurisdictional phase shows that Ward can rule on the petition – would be the presentation of expert witnesses.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice William L. Waller Jr. appointed Ward to hear the incorporation after 10th District Chancellor M. Ronald Doleac recused himself.

Three Chancery Court judges – Rhea H. Sheldon, Deborah J. Gambrell and Johnny L. Williams – had recused themselves from the Belleville incorporation case in a June 16 order.

Doleac was assigned to the case, but Ducker filed a motion June 23 for Doleac to be recused because relatives allegedly lived in the proposed Bellevue area.

Doleac filed an order of disqualification and recusal June 27 and the Mississippi Supreme Court Docket Manager was advised of the action that same day. Waller appointed Ward on June 29.