A circuit judge has ordered former County Engineer Rudy Warnock to be added as a defendant in an ongoing lawsuit over a $1.2 million top-secret 2013 airport study the Madison County Economic Development Authority alleges was illegally approved. 

MCEDA’s Board of Directors voted Monday afternoon in executive session to add Warnock as a defendant. 

MCEDA in April filed a lawsuit against the law firm of Scott, Sullivan, Streetman and Fox, which at the time of the report advised directors to sign the $1.2 million contract for the airport study billed Project Phoneix. 

On April 11, MCEDA filed the legal malpractice complaint against Scott, Sullivan, Streetman and Fox and former MCEDA attorney Andy Clark, who was a lawyer with the firm at the time of the airport contract signing. 

On May 30, Scott, Sullivan, Streetman and Fox filed a motion to dismiss the case for failure to add Warnock & Associates to the original lawsuit. The order alternatively asked for Warnock & Associates to be added to the lawsuit as a named defendant. 

“As a party to the contract, who received amounts under a contract which MCEDA now contends is unlawful and void, Warnock is a necessary party to the litigation,” the May order states. 

On Oct. 1,  Circuit Judge William E. Chapman III denied the motion to dismiss the case altogether, but ordered that Warnock & Associates be added to the case. 

“Madison County Economic Development Authority shall join Rudy Warnock and Warnock & Associates LLC as Party Defendants in this action by Oct. 26, 2018,” Chapman’s order states. 

Arthur “Skipper” Jernigan, the attorney for MCEDA, said the board voting on the addition of Warnock to the lawsuit was more of a formality because there was a court order. 

“They had a court order that said we shall do that, so that’s what they did,” Jernigan said. 

MCEDA is seeking the $996,000 they actually spent on the airport study. 

Madison County supervisors paid another $180,000, which MCEDA is not seeking to recoup. 

MCEDA is alleging that the contract was “unauthorized, prohibited and illegal” because an employee of Warnock & Associates was a member of the MCEDA board, which is prohibited by the entity’s enabling legislation. 

Calvin Harris worked for Warnock & Associates while serving on the MCEDA board at the time of the airport contract signing. 

Harris in 2013 recused himself from the vote awarding his employer’s firm the contract, but Jernigan has said in the past that doesn’t matter because of MCEDA’s enabling legislation. Jernigan was initially hired as a special counsel by MCEDA to examine the airport study before later being retained as the board’s primary counsel.

“Therefore, MCEDA was not legally capable of contracting with Warnock & Associates, making the subject contract unauthorized, prohibited and illegal,” Jernigan wrote in a letter to MCEDA board members. “The issue now becomes one of what can MCEDA to do seek the return of monies improperly and illegally paid to Warnock.” 

MCEDA has taken no action on other money paid to Warnock dating back to 2012 for other services rendered while Harris was a board member. 

A review of MCEDA’s minutes and financial information by the Madison County Journal in August 2017 revealed Warnock & Associates had received over $160,000 worth of business from MCEDA. 

Some jobs were approved by the board, such as work in 2013 on Parkway East parcels owned by MCEDA, while other work appears to have been completed without a board vote. 

The Journal found at least 18 instances of payments to Warnock & Associates by MCEDA dating back to February 2012. 

“It’s a big ole ball of twine,” Jernigan said in 2017. “Once you start unraveling it, you have to get it all the way unraveled.” 

The airport study, unveiled to county supervisors by Warnock in December 2014, revealed three locations as possible sites for a new airport, with the top choice costing nearly $50 million. 

Warnock was fired by the Board of Supervisors in 2016 and sued the county for $1.4 million in what he said were unpaid invoices. The county ultimately settled with Warnock for $550,000.