Marlins stadium suit nears conclusion – maybe

If you haven’t been following the Florida Marlins stadium lawsuit, have you been missing some fine summer entertainment. The story so far, in brief:

  • Judge Jeri Beth Cohen repeatedly tried to get the two sides to settle via mediation, but to no avail.

  • Marlins president David Samson testified, but didn’t live up to his reputation for outrageous quotes, unless you count the argument that “I believe the public is supportive of using tourist development taxes, from the hundreds and hundreds of e-mails we’ve got from fans.” He further told reporters that the chance of opening a new stadium in 2011 “is starting to worry me.”

  • Tony Villamil, CEO of the Washington Economic Group – described as an “economist” by the South Florida Business Journal, but actually a paid consultant for the Marlinstestified that a new stadium “serves the public purpose of economic development” because of “the portfolio of amenities of the state or a region, what economists call externality benefits,” such as media exposure. Villamil later admitted under cross-examination that his study projecting $208 million in economic impact (and $14 million in new state and local tax money, against a public cost of $360 million), was based on 2001 data supplied by the Marlins, which he didn’t attempt to independently verify.

  • Judge Cohen announced she’d wait several weeks to rule on plaintiff Norman Braman’s key charge that community redevelopment money can’t be redirected to free up other funds for the Marlins’ stadium without a public vote. The reason: She wants to wait until the state supreme court has ruled on several similar cases involving use of public funds without a referendum. “I am not going to rule. I’m surprised you would pressure me,” Cohen told attorneys for team, city, and county. “That’s not what trial courts do. This is about me doing what is intellectually honest. … I have an obligation to wait.”

  • During closing arguments, the judge asked county attorney David Hope why a new stadium represents a “paramount public purpose,” as required by state law to get public money. “I know you guys think this is a slam dunk, but I’m struggling with this.”

It certainly sounds like Braman has a shot at winning what initially looked like an uphill battle. (Caveat: I haven’t watched any of the court proceedings directly, and I’m anything but a legal analyst.) We should know more when Cohen issues her ruling … or when she issues the other part of her ruling after the supreme court decisions … or after the appeals process begins … or …

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