JEFFERSON CITY — Oral arguments in the Missouri Supreme Court on Wednesday were the next step in Jennifer Henderson’s fight against the election that established a sales tax for the Business Loop Community Improvement District in 2015.
Henderson filed a petition in January 2016 alleging that the sales tax election was improper because it lacked a secret ballot, a secure ballot box and sufficient 90-day notice, said Richard Reuben, one of Henderson’s attorneys .
Reuben and Henderson’s other attorney, James Layton, asked the court to compel 13th Circuit Judge Jodie Asel to issue a final decision in Henderson’s lawsuit against the CID. In their brief to the Supreme Court, they also asked the high court to decide whether circuit courts have the jurisdiction to review special-district elections.
The high court’s judges focused primarily during the arguments on why it would be possible for Asel to forego entering a judgment in the lawsuit and asked why she has refused to do so.
Asel dismissed the case without prejudice in March 2016 under the belief that she did not have subject matter jurisdiction in reviewing a community improvement district election.
However, Asel never put her opinion in writing as a final judgment. For this reason, Henderson hasn’t lost because the case is still pending. Henderson is stuck in a Catch-22: The case is ongoing because no final judgment has been entered, and because there’s no final judgement yet, she can’t appeal.
Judge Patricia Breckenridge asked Asel’s attorney, Caleb Colbert, if he believes a trial judge possesses a necessary duty to enter judgment. He said he thinks the decision is within Asel’s discretion. But he admitted there was some “confusion” has occurred due to delays on Henderson’s side, causing the judge to inadvertently prolong the case.
“Well over a year where nothing has happened in the case” led Asel to believe the suit was closed, Colbert said.
Judge Laura Denvir Stith said a lawsuit can’t close without a judgment entered and titled as such. She said Henderson is entitled to a judgment in the case, since she brought it to the court.
Layton said they are simply asking for a judgment to be entered in the case.
If the judges rule in favor of Henderson and issue a writ of mandamus, Asel will be compelled to enter a final judgment. Should that outcome prevail, Henderson’s attorneys will be back in the high court questioning the subject matter jurisdiction Asel claimed she lacked, Reuben said.
If Asel’s argument that she doesn’t have jurisdiction is true, “all these specialty jurisdictions that impose taxes could do so without having their procedures subject to judicial review,” Reuben previously said.
Henderson, who was a sophomore at MU when she filed the lawsuit in 2016, attended the arguments Wednesday.
“I hope that we get a judgment, because we deserve that and, procedurally, it’s a right,” Henderson said after arguments. “If it goes further from there, that would be awesome.”
Layton and Reuben expressed satisfaction with how the court appearance unfolded.
“These judges understand that we have a right to appeal in Missouri,” Layton said. “All we’re asking the court to do is to take the next step.”