I picked up a copy of the thick city reply to the BellSouth suit Friday and "read" it last night. From my layman's perspective, and I suspect from a lawyer's perspective as well, it is dense and intricate.
The papers both carry stories on it. (The Advocate: Court urged to toss BellSouth suit; The Advertiser: Fiber lawsuit too late, city says) Both focus on the city's trump card: the suit ought to dismissed out of hand because BellSouth filed it too late. This is not merely a matter of statute, according to the reply. It is a constitutional mandate that allows for no interpretation by the judge and no modification by mere law or custom. Because it is a constitutional matter, factors which might color interpretation are simply not allowable. Since the constitution clearly states that the deadline is 30 days and does not except holidays, no judge or law can change that absolute deadline to make allowance for "holidays." The filing was not timely and must be dismissed.
That is strong stuff, and convincing, but the city-parish attorney, Ottinger, does not stop there. He goes on to assert that the constitutional clause setting a strict limit of 30 days is of a particular kind (a "peremption") which has the radical effect of destroying the possibility of any further challenge once the deadline has passed. The thirty-day limit has the effect of destroying any and all possible causes of action and "the court shall have no authority to inquire into such matters." What makes it radical is that the argument, if accepted, means that nobody can raise any question at all about the bonds; delaying tactics from this quarter would be over. The state's reason for putting bonds beyond the reach of the law after a 30-day grace period is simply to ensure that it can be trusted to pay its debts, and this purpose has been written into the constitution in a way that closes the door finally after the deadline.
So the missed filing date will likely decide the case outright. If the city is right (and it is hard to see a way around a constitutional provision of this type), then no cause for action exists or can exist and the bond issue is not open for attack.
But just in case, the city builds an intricate structure of logic that resembles nothing so much as the sort of hierarchical decision tree that you see in computer programming. Really. There is a series of "if-then" statements with a few "if-then-else" branching structures that methodically go through all the possible interpretations and close doors. There is even a portion that traps BellSouth in an endless loop where their acceptance of a law in one place critical to their argument traps them into a "judicial admission" that the law applies which has fatal results for their argument elsewhere.
All very nice, all very convincing.
A little rumination: in novels of the old days the "odd birds" of the era are usually lawyers. Eccentric, a little obsessive, and impractically logical. Today we call odd birds with these characteristics "geeks" and set them to programming computers. They are expected to operate inside a set of hierarchical rules where an upper level of laws determines rules that can't be broken and a series of if-then-else structures determines the flow of causality in particular cases. It's pretty clear that were Ottinger born a bit later, he might have become a programmer. I'd be curious to know if anyone else sees a connection or if I'm out to lunch on this one.