FLORENCE — Lawyers for Johnson Utilities are arguing a Pinal County judge “abused” his discretion by issuing an injunction last year that compelled the company to hand over control of its operations to EPCOR Water.
Five months after Pinal County Superior Court Presiding Judge Stephen McCarville issued the injunction, the utility company has filed court papers that outline arguments Johnson Utilities will make before the Arizona Court of Appeals.
According to the opening brief filed last week, lawyers representing Johnson believe McCarville’s injunction was too broad and “unconstitutionally vague.”
The company further faults Pinal County Superior Court for not allowing Johnson lawyers time to present a “full and fair” picture of the case before an injunction was issued.
The Arizona Corporation Commission took Johnson to court last summer after it appointed an interim manager to take over the company.
The ACC had been investigating Johnson for months after hearing numerous customers complain about the quality of their drinking water and high rates. After appointing an interim manager, the commission sought a court-ordered injunction to force Johnson to comply with its demands.
“Johnson Utilities remains unapologetic, unaccountable and uncooperative with its regulators,” lawyers for the ACC wrote in the complaint they filed in Pinal County Superior Court, which asked for an injunction against the company.
In their appeal, Johnson’s lawyers argue the ACC presented misleading information to the Superior Court judge in an attempt to show Johnson would not cooperate with an interim manager. But Johnson claims the company was willing to be accommodating to EPCOR.
Johnson further accused the ACC of overstepping its authority and committing a “hostile government takeover” that denies the company its due process rights.
“If the ACC has the power to appoint an interim manager, then it should not be permitted to act as both the prosecutor and the judge,” counsel for Johnson wrote in the appeal.
Johnson is asking the Court of Appeals to vacate an element in Judge McCarville’s injunction that granted EPCOR control over the company’s financial accounts.
The appellate case is one of several pieces of litigation Johnson has pending in state and federal courts. A group of Pinal County residents have a lawsuit pending in federal court that accuses the company of racketeering and unjust enrichment.
Johnson filed a lawsuit last year against Pinal County Supervisor Mike Goodman that accused him of trespassing and defamation. Court documents show the case was dismissed in Superior Court on Jan. 10.
Lawyers representing the ACC have until the end of February to file a response to Johnson’s arguments in appellate court.