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Lawsuit claims juvenile justice center project should have gone to public vote

Posted at 10:22 PM, Sep 02, 2019

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Longtime County Court Judge Patrick McDermott has found himself a project since retiring from the bench a year ago.

He's the lawyer representing a retired Nebraska Supreme Court judge, who's pushing a lawsuit to stop the proposed youth center project.

Well, at least before any public vote on it.

"Boy this is a big project, without a public vote, somebody needs to ask that question of the judge. Can you do it this way,” says McDermott

Much of McDermott's argument to stop the project rests on two words, "joint use". Current state law allows counties and cities to do large projects without a public vote, if joint use applies to both of them.

But McDermott says it doesn't work here, with the county paying for the $114-million project.

"Joint use really anticipates that both entities are actively using the facility for public service and that's just not, I don't think, factually true,” says McDermott.

The defendants include the city, county, the building commission and the Douglas County Unified Justice Center, which is the non-profit that set up the project.

In court documents, they argue Omaha Police officers will routinely use the building when taking in juveniles.

Saying in the docs, "law enforcement activities remain integrated and jointly serve the citizens of Douglas County and Omaha."

Current plans also call for a 400 square-foot room to house OPD officers before they're called to testify.

McDermott calls it a scheme to avoid a vote of the people.

"An assembly area for witnesses, is not necessarily a city function, if their officers use it, fine, it may be used by sheriff deputies, it may be used by state patrol officers, it doesn't make it joint-use,” says McDermott.

Both parties agree that nobody knows exactly what the "joint use" wording means.

The defendants say McDermott's “meritless argument has shifted from ‘no joint use’ to insufficient joint use."

And that “this evidences Plaintiff's intent to merely delay the issuance of bonds and increase the overall cost of the project."

McDermott also plans to argue in court that the non-profit set up for the project was made so there would be no public bidding on the project.

3 News Now reached out to an attorney with the defendants multiple times and did not get a response.