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Mediator appointed in ECD lawsuit

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A mediator has been selected to arbitrate a lawsuit filed by the county's Emergency Communication District (ECD) and other districts against a telephone company over 911 charges.

Former Judge Lew Conner has been approved by a federal judge, and has agreed to handle the county's case against BellSouth, now known as AT&T.

In April, Bedford County's ECD filed suit demanding the recovery of $76,000 in service charges. The litigation claims the ECD was billed "far in excess" of the number of phone lines for which BellSouth reported and remitted 911 charges.

Mediation was scheduled to start on Jan. 28 and could be extended to a later date if necessary, United States District Judge Curtis L. Collier wrote.

The suit has been consolidated with litigation filed in nine other emergency districts. Other ECDs suing BellSouth are in Cheatham, Knox, Hamilton, Bradley, Blount, Coffee, Roane, Franklin and Giles counties.

Has experience

Collier had suggested former Judge Robert Murrian as a possible mediator. Murrian has retired and was unavailable.

Conner has served as a mediator since 1997, according the website of Mediation Group of Tennessee, and served four years as a Tennessee Court of Appeals judge and a special Supreme Court judge.

He has mediated a large number of legal disputes, including arbitrating 31 cases involving the tragic National Health Care nursing home fire in Nashville in 2004.

The former judge is also a member of the law firm Waller, Landsden, Dortch & Davis in Nashville.

Suit claims

The county's suit claims that BellSouth "has intentionally failed to fulfill its obligation to collect, report, and remit to the District 911 Charges necessary to finance the District's operations."

In 1984, the state's ECD law was enacted to establish 911 as the emergency number and to allow counties to set up emergency districts. Bedford County did so in 1987. The General Assembly later amended the law in 1997 to require "Enhanced" 911 service, which automatically displays the address of a landline caller for dispatchers.

The litigation claims that although BellSouth billed -- and the district paid for -- 11,000 lines in Bedford County in December 2010, BellSouth "falsely reported in its monthly report to the District ... that it only supplied 9,020 business and residential lines."

In addition, the suit alleges BellSouth has underbilled, undercollected and underpaid 911 charges for business lines provided by multiplex circuits, which are typically T-1 lines that provide 24 channels of voice communications.

The suit claims that BellSouth charged for 911 "on only a small fraction of the voice lines," resulting in false reports to the district. The same claim was made about single-circuit business lines and residential lines.