7/02/2007

Wareham plans to keep fighting eminent domain case: South Coast Today, New Bedford MA, 6/9/07

By Brian Boyd

The town [of Wareham MA] is pressing on with its legal fight to reduce the $1.1 million a federal jury said Wareham owes a landowner whose beachfront property the town took.

The town's attorneys took the first step to bring the dispute to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals when they filed a notice of appeal Thursday.

In 2003, the town took 5.35 acres by eminent domain to expand Swifts Beach and paid $450,000 to owner Barbara Deighton Haupt, who later sued for more. Jurors decided in April the land was worth $1.55 million, leaving the town liable for the balance plus interest.

The town's lawyer, Richard Bowen, would not disclose the grounds on which the town is appealing the verdict.

"I would not give the other side any heads up until they get the brief," he said.

The court will establish a schedule for the case, and the two sides will submit their briefs. A three-judge panel would then hear oral arguments, Mr. Bowen said.

Selectmen Chairwoman Brenda Eckstrom deferred questions about the appeal to the town's attorneys.

The town had earlier filed a motion asking the U.S. District Court judge who presided over the trial to reduce the amount or grant a new trial. The lawyers argued there was no basis for the dollar figure jurors chose, but the judge rejected their argument.

Jeffrey Angley, Mrs. Haupt's attorney, said the town has no prospect for success in the appeals court, and he is disappointed it is unwilling to put the matter to rest.

"I'm surprised the town is willing to spend what will be considerable more amount of money to pursue an appeal in this case, when it already lost a motion for new trial," Mr. Angley said.

Mr. Angley has estimated the town owes a total of $1.2 million, including interest. He said Friday the interest will continue to accrue as the town wages its legal battle.

During the trial, the town argued the land was worth $730,500, assuming a duplex could be built there, based on a reappraisal.

Mrs. Haupt's legal team presented different potential values, ranging from $3.1 million, based on the assumption that a beach club with building could be constructed there, to $1.2 million if the best prospect was for a duplex.

The jurors decided the greatest potential was for a duplex with beachfront and assigned a value. In their unsuccessful motion to alter the verdict, the town's lawyers asked the judge to shave $350,000 off the verdict, bringing it down to the $1.2 million figure given by Mrs. Haupt's expert.


South Coast Today, New Bedford MA: http://www.southcoasttoday.com