TUPELO – The lawsuit against the Tupelo Regional Airport Authority by its former airport director is expected to go before U.S. District Court Judge Michael P. Mills in Oxford next month.
But the authority is asking the judge to declare a mistrial if certain ground rules it is requesting are violated.
The authority was sued in early 2011 by former airport executive director Terry Anderson, whom it fired in December 2009. The case has been working its way through federal court, and another lawsuit involving former airport operations director Reid Dawe was settled in April.
Anderson’s case is scheduled to begin trial Oct. 21, and he accuses the authority of age discrimination and violating his First Amendment right to free speech.
He is represented by Tupelo attorney Jim Waide, Rachel Pierce Waide and Shane McLaughlin. TRAA’s counsel comes from firms Mitchell McNutt & Sams of Tupelo and Daniel Coker Horton & Bell of Oxford.
On Wednesday, an attorney for the authority filed a motion, often used before the start of a trial requesting a judge to exclude or include certain testimony regarding evidence or information. Anderson’s counsel has not yet responded.
Among the TRAA’s requests to exclude:
• Emotional outbursts: “In past trials, plaintiff’s counsel has consistently displayed varying degrees of emotional outbursts before the jury, specifically crying and other related behaviors,” the motion says. “Such conduct could sway the jury to act out of pity, sympathy, emotion and/or disbelief, rather than returning a just verdict according to the facts of the case and the governing law.”
• Golden rule arguments: Any direct or indirect requests for the jury to “put themselves in the shoes” of Anderson
• Derogatory comments: Any general derogatory comments about the authority or its current or former employees or current or former board members
• Conflicts of interest or ethical violations: The airport board anticipates Anderson “may offer testimony and/or that his attorneys may interrogate witnesses or make arguments regarding alleged conflicts of interest with and/or ethical violations by members” of the board “in order to suggest to the jury that the plaintiff was terminated for exposing these alleged conflicts of interest and/or ethical violations.”
The board claims Anderson never blew the whistle at any time while he was employed at the airport.
• FOIA requests: Anderson filed several Freedom of Information Act requests, but the board apparently has not given him all he’s requested. Specifically, the board said it denied Anderson’s request for a copy of the resumes of the people who applied to replace him after he was fired. The board said whether or not it responded to his FOIA request has no bearing on the issues raised in the lawsuit.
• Improper religious references: The motion says, “in past trials plaintiff’s counsel has interjected inflammatory and prejudicial comments that suggest to the jury members that their religious beliefs should guide their ultimate decision in the case.”
The board in its motion said that if any of these terms are violated, it “may constitute contempt and necessitate a mistrial.”