KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Mayor Quinton Lucas is on his way to spending nearly half a million dollars of taxpayer funds – including on a $1,000-an-hour New York lawyer – in a lawsuit over police funding that is arguably premature and quite possibly dead on arrival.
That’s according to the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, which has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit because the case “is not ripe for adjudication.” The board notes that the new Missouri law at the heart of the dispute isn’t even close to being put into effect – and that, regardless, voters will decide in just a few weeks whether or not it will be.
Lucas’ lawsuit to prevent a state-ordered rise in KC police funding – a lawsuit he is pressing as a private citizen, but bizarrely with taxpayer funds – is filed against the Board of Police Commissioners, the state of Missouri and state Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
The lawsuit alleges a violation of the Hancock Amendment, a 1981 law prohibiting state-compelled increases in municipal funding.
Saga begins with 2021 vote to defund KCPD
After Lucas and a city council majority tried and failed to defund the Kansas City Police Department by $42 million last year, the Missouri General Assembly earlier this year responded with Senate Bill 678, which mandates an increase in the minimum percentage of KC’s general revenue fund that goes to KCPD, from 20% to 25%.
To provide the needed constitutional exception to the Hancock Amendment, the Legislature also passed Senate Joint Resolution 38 – Amendment 4 on the Nov. 8 ballot – which would explicitly state that SB 678’s mandated rise in KC police funding is constitutional.
The Kansas City Council had preemptively approved an ordinance back in January to authorize up to $450,000 of the city’s tax dollars to fund Lucas’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of SB 678 and SJR 38.
“I support the increase, particularly considering we got caught off-guard on the last effort to defund the police,” said Councilwoman Teresa Loar, who was in the council’s minority that voted against funding the lawsuit. “With crime rampant, particularly in Kansas City – we’re one of the five most violent cities in the nation – I don’t think this is any time to be skimping on anything for the police department.”
“It makes no sense to debate hypothetical legal questions”
The police board’s motion to dismiss argues that, since the law hasn’t actually gone into effect, and wouldn’t until next year, the lawsuit currently is only hypothetical – and therefore impermissible for a court ruling. The board notes that technically and legally, there hasn’t been a violation of the Hancock Amendment because the state isn’t enforcing SB 678 yet.
The earliest the state can enforce the law is after the first of the year, when the police board and city take actions to set the police budget – months after voters will have already approved or denied the law’s constitutionality on Nov. 8.
Kansas City Councilwoman Heather Hall believes Lucas’s lawsuit “absolutely” hurts community-police relations, and filing it prematurely without solid legal standing encourages an unfairly hostile public perception toward police.
“The mayor has all these great soundbites, but then cannot back them up,” Hall said of Lucas’ lawsuit. “And then the voter, who maybe hasn’t taken the time to really do the research themselves, is left to just believe what they read on a 200-character count tweet.”
Furthermore, the motion argues, the lawsuit is currently hypothetical because if voters pass Amendment 4, then SB 678 will not be subject to the Hancock Amendment and the lawsuit will have nothing to challenge.
Moreover, if voters don’t pass Amendment 4, the mandated funding increase for KCPD will likely be declared unconstitutional. Here again, the board argues there is nothing to discuss until Missouri voters make a decision on SJR 38.
“In less than two months, Missouri citizens will vote on a constitutional amendment that, if passed, will cure the constitutional infirmity [Lucas] alleges,” the police board’s motion reads. “And, under Missouri law, no enforcement of SB 678 will occur until after that November vote. A ruling at this stage would be impermissible advisory opinion. The Court should dismiss the petition accordingly.
“Plaintiff’s claim will not be ripe for months, if ever. It makes no sense to debate hypothetical legal questions before an immediate and concrete dispute arises, which will occur, if at all, after the November election. Until that time, the Court should dismiss Plaintiff’s petition.”
Advocate for cop killer among the highest paid on Lucas’ legal team
The hypothetical nature of the lawsuit hasn’t stopped Lucas from beginning to burn city funds in pursuit of it – as authorized by the council’s January vote to put $450,000 behind it.
Another wrinkle in Lucas’ lawsuit that’s catching backlash is his hiring of New York lawyer Debo P. Adegbile, who is a former advocate for a high-profile cop killer.
Among other lawyers he’s retained in the case, Lucas hired Adegbile’s firm – Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr LLP. According to documents obtained by The Heartlander via a public records request, Lucas has pledged up to $425,000 of taxpayer funds to the firm as payment for litigation on the lawsuit.
Adegbile is also the highest paid on Lucas’ legal team, at a rate of over $1,000 per hour, documents show.
According to the BBC, Adegbile once “wrote legal briefs on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” the man serving life in prison without parole for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. The officer was shot in the face and back during a traffic stop of Abu-Jamal’s brother.
“I think it’s completely disgraceful and I think it’s unacceptable for someone who advocates for cop-killers to then be the person who is representing the mayor,” Hall said of the New York attorney.
Adegbile was even too extreme for the Democrat-led U.S. Senate to confirm as President Obama’s head of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in 2014. When Obama nominated Adegbile to lead the division, the Fraternal Order of Police called it a “thumb in the eye of law enforcement.”
Lucas: A 0.7% increase in KCPD funding will lead to “defunding” of fire department, Parks and Recreation and road repairs
In reality, the law’s 5% increase in minimum KC police funding doesn’t mean much in the way of actual dollars. According to Lucas’ own lawsuit, the city already had “appropriated 24.3% of its general revenues” to the KC Board of Police Commissioners in the 2022-23 fiscal year – less than 1% lower than what is being mandated by the new law and Amendment 4.
Yet, Lucas inexplicably warns that the mandated 0.7% increase in police funding would result in deep cuts to other vital city departments.
“A significant increase in the City’s appropriations to the [Police} Board would necessarily require reductions in the other services the City provides to its residents, leading to a defunding of the Kansas City Fire Department, defunding of road repair and resurfacing in the City, and defunding of Parks and Recreations services for City taxpayers,” his lawsuit claims.
But when asked if his claims are accurate or hyperbole on Lucas’s part, Councilwoman Hall is clear.
“I think it’s more than dramatic – it’s false information,” she said. “The truth of the matter is, every year for the last seven years that he and I have been on the council together, we have given between 24% and 26% of the general fund annually to KCPD.
“Where do you think the money is coming from for the other departments? Of course the other departments are still going to get funded. They have been getting funded at the same time that we’ve been giving between 24% and 26% of the general fund to KCPD. So this is basically just codifying what we’ve already been doing.”
Hall and Councilwoman Loar both say they overwhelmingly support Amendment 4 and will be encouraging others to vote in favor as well.
As for the lawsuit, nothing is likely to move forward until voters make their decision on Nov. 8.