MONTROSE – Montrose County won a major legal battle last week against JetAway Aviation when Montrose District Court Judge James Schum ruled that the county commissioners did not overstep their bounds in denying the company access to the airport.
Schum also ruled that JetAway must pay the county’s legal fees in the ongoing court battle that goes back for five years.
In a news release, Montrose County said Schum ruled that JetAway’s access to airport property “was property revoked by the county for continued violations of airport regulations and directive regarding use of airport property.”
Schum stated that JetAway’s “flagrant violations of airport standards and rules are inexcusable.”
But that’s just the local court fight, which has been going on since the county awarded Fixed Base Operator status to Black Canyon Jet Center instead of JetAway back in 2005. There’s still the federal case, in which JetAway charges the county violated antitrust laws. That case is set to go to court on Oct. 17, unless some sort of settlement is reached with JetAway before then, according to Commissioner Gary Ellis.
That worries Bill Patterson, a former county commissioner and the chief target of JetAway, which was behind a failed attempt to recall him from office in 2008. Patterson lost his re-election bid in 2007 to current Commissioner Ron Henderson, however, who ran on a platform of negotiating with JetAway.
Patterson, currently a Montrose city councilman, said he heard that JetAway owner Mike Gerdner is in town to negotiate a deal. Gerdner was contacted but did not return phone calls.
“They just want money,” Patterson said. “And if the commissioners give him a lot of money, someone should answer for that.”
Commissioner Gary Ellis said the JetAway owner has been in town this week, and while Ellis hasn’t met with Gerdner personally, Gerdner has met with County Administrator Jesse Smith.
“He presented an informal settlement offer,” Ellis said. “But it’s too premature to bring to the county.”
Once the proposal is no longer “premature,” Ellis said, it could be presented to the public, but “it’s not vetted out yet.”
Ellis didn’t say what was in the settlement offer, or whether it would affect the county’s application for recovery of costs in the local case, which is due back to Schum within 15 days of last week’s ruling, Ellis said.
Montrose County Attorney Robert Hill is working on the application to present to Schum, detailing the exact amount the county should be reimbursed for “reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.”
Hill said the amount is yet to be determined and will only include recent legal fees. He said an application for the fees will be submitted to Judge Schum, who will likely hold a hearing at a later date.
“There are several different litigations and the… FAA case is still up in the air,” Hill said. “This particular fee is an order by the court related to limited proceedings that were before the court on this last go-round.”
Patterson is also concerned about the federal case, since he is also being sued, but JetAway has lost every court decision until now, and he hopes that trend continues.
“The real serious issue is the federal case, and I don’t know if this [Schum’s ruling] will affect the federal case, but nothing is done in a vacuum,” Patterson said. “Once again JetAway has lost … and from a standpoint of truth and justice, I feel a little vindicated.”
Patterson, who was a target in JetAway’s campaign against the county early on, said he hopes that the case against him will be dismissed. He characterized its charges as having stemmed from hearsay evidence, given in a deposition by County Commissioner David White.
“David White brought out all these allegations against me which proved through [other] depositions to be totally false,” Patterson said. “He says, ‘That’s what I heard,’ and he dodges and waffles, but the reality is that I was never involved with anything JetAway has accused me of.”
In response to Patterson’s assessment, White said he made it clear when giving testimony that he didn’t have firsthand knowledge of any crime.
“The last question they asked me was if I thought Bill committed a crime, and I said no,” he said.
“I have no way of deciding if he did or didn’t; he may have walked a thin line, but I can’t say that he in fact broke any laws or did anything criminal,” he clarified.
White added, however, that he was glad to hear about Schum’s ruling.
“I think what it boils down to is that their company needs to play by the rules, and we are the operating authority of the airport,” he said of Jetaway and the county.