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Judge refuses to delay July 26 trial of condo lawsuit

by Tom Chillemi

After three years, Potomac Timber Investments’ $4.5 million lawsuit against the Urbanna Town Council will go to trial as scheduled starting July 26 in Middlesex Circuit Court.

On Monday, Judge R. Bruce Long denied Potomac Timber’s motion to delay the jury trial. The trial may take up to 3 days.

In 2008, Potomac Timber filed a lawsuit after the town council rejected its site plan for 14 condominiums proposed for the Urbanna Yachting Center near the Urbanna Bridge.

Potomac Timber attorney Patricia D. Ryan argued on Monday, June 27, that the town’s financial records, which she requested on May 31, were seized by the Virginia State Police on June 10. She asked Judge Long to give Potomac Timber time to obtain the financial records from the State Police.

Judge Long, however, did not waver from his March 28 ruling that the jury trial will start on July 26. “Those records have been sitting there three years,” he pointed out.

Ryan alleged that a Potomac Timber principal, Ray Watson, said in a May 28, 2011 deposition that former town administrator and zoning administrator Lewis Filling approached him about being put on “the payroll” of the developers. This occurred over a period of several years, said Ryan, adding that all offers were rejected.

Judge Long pressed Ryan to give him concrete evidence why the town’s financial records were needed.

Judge Long said if there was misconduct by Filling, in order for it to be relevant it would have had to affect the decisions of the town council and Urbanna Planning Commission. He noted Potomac Timber “didn’t get what they wanted” from the two governing bodies.

Filling is facing 5 counts of embezzlement from the Central Middlesex Volunteer Rescue Squad of Urbanna, and Judge Long noted these allegations. He asked Ryan to show him in what context the town’s financial records were needed.

Ryan said her clients can’t get a fair trial unless they review financial records to see if Filling “might” have secured funds fraudulently. Ryan said she wanted to look for “a pattern” of discrimination treatment by Filling. “It is often what is not there that is important,” she said.

Filling dismissed
John Conrad, who is representing the town in this case, pointed out that Filling “was dismissed” from Potomac Timber’s lawsuit, and there is no mention of attempted bribery by Filling in the lawsuit that was filed in the summer of 2008.

Conrad said there have been no pleadings about Filling before this one, which is based only upon “a belief.” He labeled the legal tactic “a fishing expedition.”

Conrad noted that Filling, as zoning administrator, could make recommendations, but the final decision is up to town council and the planning commission.

Conrad argued that under rules of law, attempts to discover evidence that the other party has must be completed no later than 30 days before trial, and Potomac Timber’s attorney filed her discovery requests too late.

Town attorney Andy Bury, who is assisting Conrad in the town’s defense, testified at Monday’s hearing that zoning records are still at the town hall. Bury said he was in the town office when police seized town financial records on June 10, and they did not want the zoning records.

Judge Long ruled that the town records are open to Potomac Timber.

However, Judge Long denied Potomac Timber’s request to make the town’s financial records available. “Plaintiffs waited too long to ask for this information,” he said.

posted 06.29.2011

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