Stillwater property owners await decision on appeal: Bartlesville OK Examiner Enterprise, 2/2/07

By Justin Juozapavicius, Associated Press

The [Oklahoma] state Supreme Court could decide Monday whether to remove a district judge from a heated eminent domain case in Stillwater.

Last month, a Noble County judge ruled that Payne County District Judge Donald Worthington could hear the case, involving the last piece of property Oklahoma State University needs to build the first phase of a $316 million planned athletic village.

An attorney for holdout homeowners Kevin and Joel McCloskey appealed to the Supreme Court, claiming the judge should be removed from the case because he had pre-decided its outcome by finding that the Board of Regents is constitutional and could acquire their property.

For months, the McCloskeys claimed the university had no authority to force them to sell their land because its governing body, the Board of Regents, has failed to abide by a long-forgotten requirement that at least five of its eight members be farmers.

Worthington is to decide whether OSU can acquire the property for the village through eminent domain, the taking of private property for a public use.

OSU spokeswoman Carrie Hulsey-Greene said, "Worthington is more than able to be fair in this case and should stay on the case."

If the lower court decision stands, Worthington is expected to hear the eminent domain argument next month.

"If we lose, we go back to a judge that knows we tried to have him removed twice," Kevin McCloskey said Thursday.

Meantime, the 66-year-old ranch home remains vacant in Stillwater. It looks as out of place as it did last fall, when the university began bulldozing the neighborhood around the house.

Oklahoma State says the home will not be in the way of the spring groundbreaking on the first project in the village, an indoor practice facility. The village is being built with a record, $165 million gift from oilman alumnus T. Boone Pickens

Eventually, OSU wants to install outdoor practice fields where the home stands. Now, it is a tiny island amid gravel student parking lots.

The brothers wanted to fix the place up and rent it for $550 a month, mainly to help pay for their grandmother's nursing home care, Kevin McCloskey said.

"Joel and I are broke," he said. "This is a very expensive fight ... we're looking at a $30,000 defense."

Hulsey-Greene said the regents are still open to settling out of court with the McCloskeys.

"We're at the part of the case where you just have to do the work and gather the evidence and prove your case, which I think we're going to do," said Harlan Hentges, attorney for the McCloskeys.

Last year, OSU offered the McCloskeys $62,000 for the home, about 2 1/2 times more than they paid for it.

But they turned it down. Later, a board of court-appointed appraisers estimated the property to be worth $84,000.

A jury will eventually decide how much the property is worth.

Bartlesville OK Examiner Enterprise: http://www.examiner-enterprise.com