Was the Murfreesboro Mosque Ruling a Pyrrhic Victory?
Islamic Center of Murfreesboro
Source: MSMV-TV Channel Four Nashville
Last Friday evening more than 150 people joined in a celebration at the home of Sally and Howard Wall in Mufreesboro of what they thought was a legal victory given a ruling issued that day by Chancellor Robert E. Corlew, III of the Rutherford County Chancery Court. The Walls have been major backers and stalwarts in the nearly two year battle over the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission approval of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro (ICM). The ICM had obtained approval for construction of the 52,000 square foot complex located at 2700 Veals Road in the Middle Tennessee community. The ICM project proceeded following Corlew’s earlier ruling against plaintiffs‘charges in a prior hearing 2010 and 2011.
Despite the plaintiffs’ losing the previous matter, we commended them for bringing the April 2012 action current ruling. However, we also noted that this successful second matter should have been the first order of legal business to stop the ICM project from being initiated.
Following the April hearings Chancellor Corlew ruled in favor of the Plaintiffs lead by Kevin Fisher, a local Mosque opponent and other Mufreesboro residents. Corlew ruled that evidence presented at the two day proceedings demonstrated that legal notifications did not meet the standards of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act to provide adequate notice by the County Planning Commission for a hearing that resulted in a May 24, 2010 approval of the Murfreesboro Mosque project . The final June 1st order by Corlew in KEVIN FISHER, et al., Plaintiffs,v. RUTHERFORD COUNTY REGIONALPLANNING COMMISSION, et al.,Defendants; And IN RE: MURFREESBORO POST, Docket No. 10CV 10443 noted:
In accordance with the applicable law, the Court found that the decisions of the Regional Planning Commission regarding land at 2700 Veals Road in Rutherford County, Tennessee and particularly as those decisions regarding the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro were in fact void, ab initio that decision having been made at a meeting which was held in violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act. FURTHER, in accordance with the Open Meetings Act, the Defendants are enjoined from further violations of the Open Meetings Act and shall refrain from holding further meetings without adequate public notice to the citizens of Rutherford County with regard to further matter of significant public interest at future meetings of the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission and particularly meetings at which decisions are made regarding the issues which have been the subject of this litigation, that being the issues surrounding the land at 2700 Veals Road, Rutherford County, Tennessee, and, under the terms of the Open Meetings Law, this Court retains continuing jurisdiction over the parties and the subject matter of this lawsuit for a period of one year, or through June l, 2013.
However, Corlew’s final order had a footnote that upon disclosure by attorneys for the Plaintiffs, Joe Brandon, Esq. and Thomas Smith, Esq., left ultimate enforcement to filing by plaintiffs of a separate Writ of Mandamus for injunctive relief to enforce his ruling. The footnote reads as follows:
The Plaintiffs propose that the Court enter an InJunction against the Court, mandatory in nature, directing the County officials and third parties to cease construction at 2700 Veals Road. The Court notes, however, that such is not now a part of this action, and, in fact should be the subject of separate matters either in the nature of a mandamus action or further injunctive relief. The Court further notes that the terms of this order do not prohibit the Defendants from again considering the issues which were the subject of the May 24, 2010 meeting provided proper notice is given under the law.
An email sent by Plaintiffs’ counsel Thomas Smith, Esq. to Lou Ann Zelenik, executive director of the Tennessee Freedom Coalition (TFC), a candidate in the GOP primary for the Tennessee Sixth Congressional District, late Friday had this comment:
This morning I was preparing a response to the County objections to our draft order with an injunction when the Chancellor issued this Order that says in a footnote that we must file a separate mandamus action to require them to enforce the law!!!
Under Tennessee law the filing of a Writ of Mandamus takes 30 days to perfect. That means both the County and the ICM, the third party referenced in Corlew’s ruling, can file objections prior to the Court issuing a Mandamus order stopping construction. In the interim the ICM can proceed with construction targeting a July 19th possible opening of the first phase facility at the 2700 Veals Road location. That would be pursuant to issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy subject to inspection by the County Building Department. July 19th marks the start of the month long Ramadan Islamic religious period. Thus, it is very possible that the ICM will have an approved opening thereby mooting Chancellor Corlew’s June 1st order.
Today, a group of ICM project opponents in Murfreesboro will attempt to serve Corlew’s order on Rutherford County code enforcement officer, David Jones. Doubtless Jones will refer them to County Attorney James Cope who in turn will refer them to Corlew’s order and the footnote.
Jonna Bianco, a board member of the TFC had this comment:
Didn’t they read the fine print of the Order to understand that all Corlew did was push it off his desk, allowing time for construction to be completed for the Grand Opening and Ramadan? While providing an avenue for the Plaintiffs to seek injunctive relief the ruling effectively mooted lawsuits to be filed by the plaintiffs against the County and Mosque reversing the original County Planning Commission approvals. This also meant starting all over with the plaintiffs’ case. In the meantime, the first phase of the ICM Mega Mosque will be completed. This has all the appearances of a political move!!!!
Is this the justice that Kevin Fisher said was done with the Chancery Court ruling by Chancellor Corlew?
Given the fine print in Chancellor Corlew’s June 1st order it would appear that Fisher and fellow plaintiffs will have achieved a Pyrrhic victory against the ICM mega mosque in Tennessee. Pity!