The $687,000 question

By Sarah Fenske

No one said it was easy to fight The Man. But in the latest skirmish in its battle to stop corporate welfare in Arizona, at the least the Goldwater Institute doesn't have to go it alone.

Last year, I told you about the libertarian think-tank's bold play to stop corporate welfare in Arizona -- a lawsuit challenging the city of Phoenix's $97 million subsidy of an upscale shopping center. The Goldwater peeps hoped to use the case to show that such subsidies violate Arizona's constitution.

Sadly, though, the city has refused to be thwarted: It hired private attorneys to fight for the right to give away our tax money. Thanks, guys! And, not surprisingly, in the process of winning summary judgment in the case, the good lawyers over at Fennemore Craig rang up a $306,942 bill. That's for a case that took just eight months, start to finish.

Now the city's demanding that the judge order the Goldwater Institute to pay its legal bills.

And it gets worse.

The Institute didn't sue the developer receiving the $97 million subsidy, CityNorth LLP. But, not content to let the city's pricey lawyers fight on its behalf, CityNorth asked for the right to intervene in the case, court files show -- and then rang up a $359,450 bill of its own.

With costs and fees, the total cost to defend the subsidy has risen to $687,000. And now the city and the developer are urging the judge to stick the Goldwater Institute with the bill.

The argument is completely ludicrous -- particularly coming from CityNorth. After all, it asked to join the case. Now it wants to hose the only group sticking up for taxpayers with over-the-top lawyer bills?

The good news is: A host of public-interest organizations have joined Goldwater to fight the request. Tim Hogan, a respected lefty public-interest lawyer, filed an amicus brief on behalf of no fewer than six groups, including Len Munsil's Center for Arizona Policy and the ACLU. The brief argues that awarding attorney's fees in this case would have "a chilling effect" on other public-interest litigation.

"If an award in this case is sustained," Hogan wrote in the May 12 brief, "there is no question but that it would have an impact on the willingness of other public interest law firms and their clients to take action that over the last twenty years the State of Arizona has encouraged."

Not to mention that it would reward a bunch of fat-cat developers who're already getting zillions of our hard-earned dollars!

At least they're getting them for now. The Goldwater Institute's already planning its appeal on the subsidy issue.

As for the legal fees, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Robert Miles will hear oral arguments on June 9 and should make his decision soon after. Meantime, expect CityNorth and Fennemore Craig to run up at least another $250,000 in fees.

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