At an afternoon hearing Wednesday, both sides of lawyers on the August rodeo dispute agreed to work together to quickly, and as cheaply as possible, come to a resolution.
Gila County Superior Court Judge Peter Cahill said it is crucial that a compromise is reached swiftly so the planning of the World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo is uninterrupted.
Despite his busy schedule, Cahill said he is “not too jammed up to take care of this important matter to our community.”
A trial is likely to take place the first or second week of May depending on Cahill’s schedule and the lawyers’ ability to collect evidence and interview witnesses. No decision regarding who would run the rodeo was made Wednesday.
At stake is the right to put on the rodeo, which has been held in Payson for the last 125 years and is a major tourist draw for the town during the summer.
The Rodeo Preservation Alliance alleges that the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce violated its contract with the Alliance when it sold the rights to put on the rodeo to the Payson Pro-Rodeo Committee without giving the Alliance a chance to make a final offer.
The Committee maintains that the Alliance had its chance, and the Chamber was free to sell the rodeo to the Committee when it did not make a last and final offer.
Determined to put on the event, the Alliance filed for rights to the name “World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo,” dropping the word “Annual” in January 2010, contacted the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) to schedule cowboys and filed a suit against the Committee.
The Committee followed suit and filed a counter lawsuit against rodeo boss and Alliance member Chuck Jackman, both sides alleging they should have the rights to put on the rodeo.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Cahill consolidated the two cases into one at the lawyers’ request.
The Alliance’s lawyer, Neal Bookspan, and Payson Pro-Rodeo Committee lawyers Gregory Miles and Mark Lassiter said they are actively working together to expedite a trial.
Miles said with the rodeo taking place in August, a resolution needs to happen in May so whichever group gets rights to the event has enough time to plan it.
Cahill left it in the hands of the lawyers to work out a schedule for a one- to two-day trial in early May.
Once a trial starts, Cahill urged both sets of lawyers to “get right to the meat” of the issues so a decision is reached in time.
Bookspan said it is difficult to estimate a length for the trial when all witnesses have not been interviewed or documents collected as of Wednesday.
Cahill again urged both sets of lawyers to “get it done sooner than later.” Cahill even suggested that a mediator or a citizens group listen to both sides and suggest a solution.
In terms of the Chamber’s involvement in the case, Cahill questioned if anyone had spoken with them.
Miles said he spoke with Chamber Manager John Stanton and let him know that since lawyers would be subpoenaing documents, they may need legal counsel.
Lassiter said, “the Chamber is the elephant in the living room” that no one wants to sue, especially in a small town, adding he would rather see the Alliance sue the Chamber and “not us.”
Whoever gets the rights to the rodeo, Cahill said he hopes the event is kept in Payson “where it belongs.”
Speaking on behalf of the Alliance, Bookspan said they are not interested in moving the event out of town.