The judge in the case of Baldwin County Bridge Company, LLC (BCBC) v. John R. Cooper, in his official capacity as director of the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT), extended a deadline for both parties to submit proposed orders. The decision came after hearings were extended this week to allow the defense to call all witnesses.
Cross-examination of Cooper went into Wednesday, making the recent hearings one day longer than expected.
While Scott Bridge Company continues work on a new, free bridge in south Baldwin County, the owner of the existing toll bridge nearby, Baldwin County Bridge Company (BCBC), is seeking a preliminary injunction to halt the building of the new bridge. BCBC claims the new option would send them into bankruptcy.
Attorneys for BCBC asked Cooper if he ever considered how much the toll bridge was making when he determined to build a new bridge, and Cooper said no. While BCBC did propose to help relieve traffic in south Baldwin County, he said that "proposal was as useless as a screen door on a submarine."
ALDOT maintains there is a need to relieve traffic in south Baldwin County and the new bridge will help with that. Cooper also wants a third way for residents to evacuate during hurricanes.
During cross-examination, Cooper, who has been accused of deciding for the new bridge in bad faith after BCBC offered what they considered solutions, said there is a great need for the new bridge during the summer months.
ALDOT initially considered making improvements on Highway 59, where most traffic problems occur. However, Cooper said that early on, that idea was tossed. While the decision for the bridge was made before traffic studies and public hearings, he said since there have been studies.
During the lawsuit, ALDOT has tried to keep communications between his office and Governor Kay Ivey's office out of the public eye.
Judge Jimmy Pool ordered Cooper to produce discovery documents, including communications between himself and chiefs of staff with Ivey's office. However, that order was stopped by the Alabama Supreme Court almost immediately with an emergency order claiming executive or deliberative process privileges. Those privileges protect government agencies by allowing them to withhold information on how decisions or policies were made or created.
Ivey's team maintains communications in the case are protected by executive or deliberative process privileges.
The legislative Contract Review Committee recently approved a $50,000 retainer for Maynard, Cooper & Gale to help protect that information.
During Wednesday's hearing, Cooper said he hasn't spoken to Ivey about the bridge project since 2017.
The defense has entered a motion in limine to remove an email from Cooper and ALDOT communications director Tony Harris from evidence. He said the email concerning a draft press release contains attorney-client privileged material.
Each party will have until Monday, May 15, to submit a proposed order. The judge is expected to make a ruling soon after.
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