As expected, Wednesday's court hearing to hear the challenge to the City of Olive Branch annexing about 50 square miles of land in the Center Hill, Lewisburg, Bridgetown, Pleasant Hill and Cedar View communities inside its city limits did not take long.
The 20-minute session before Chancery Court Judge Percy Lynchard at the DeSoto County Courthouse in Hernando Wednesday morning set some deadlines for the designation of experts and the discovery phase ahead of an actual trial date.
However, a firm date for a trial in the protest filed by residents objecting to the Olive Branch attempt at adding the land won’t come until a status conference between the two sides is held sometime next April.
It is likely an actual trial may not occur until later next year.
“We’re not trying this matter today,” Lynchard told the courtroom, filled mostly with opponents to the addition of their land to the footprint of the DeSoto County city. “This hearing will set guidelines and deadlines going forward.”
Leading the representation for the Unincorporated Citizens of DeSoto County (UCDC), the main opponents to the annexation, was Pope Mallette, the Oxford City Attorney that the UCDC group has obtained to represent them in the case. He is part of the Mayo Mallette law firm in Oxford.
The City of Olive Branch was represented by City Attorney Bryan Dye and attorney Chad Mask.
Hernando and DeSoto County have filed objections to the annexation and they were represented by Hernando City Attorney Kenneth Stockton and County Board Attorney Tony Nowak, respectively.
Southaven City Attorney Nick Manley was also in the courtroom, but he later explained he was there only to answer any questions that may come up about his city’s interests. The City of Southaven, Manley explained, has not filed an objection in the matter.
It is expected the trial would take about two weeks to complete. Experts in the case were to be identified by the end of November with a discovery and deposition deadline of March 31.
Lynchard determined a status conference with the two sides would then come “sometime in April,” he said, adding that since court schedules for next year have likely not been set yet, a more firm date could not be determined until the April status conference.
In addition to the legal teams that were part of the hearing Wednesday, several individual objectors were in the courtroom and were asked to sign sheets for future contact in the case. No specific arguments were heard during the court session.
Last November, the City of Olive Branch started the process to add the areas to the city. If the city succeeds, it would add about 14,000 residents to its population.
“This is something we have been working on for about 20 years,” Mayor Scott Phillips said at the time.
Opposition to the proposal quickly arose and the UCDC held a meeting in February to gather more support and explain their plan to fight the effort. Mallette, who has dealt with annexation issues before and came highly recommended to the UCDC group, was hired to represent them in the matter.
All sides said afterward the hearing went as they expected and are looking forward to their day in court sometime later next year.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.