3/25/2007

Eminent domain plaintiff in Port Chester case detained by relative's illness: White Plains NY Journal News, 3/21/07

By Timothy O'Connor

William Brody has waited seven years for his day in court against the Village of Port Chester.

His case challenging the village's seizure of his land as part of a redevelopment plan started Monday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, but it remains unclear when Brody will actually be in court to testify.

Brody was unable to attend court for a second day as he attended to a gravely ill relative, his lawyers said. Brody's lawyers from the American Institute of Justice had to wrap up yesterday's testimony without being able to put on two of its witnesses - Brody and his former lawyer, Charles McGroddy. Glitches prevented McGroddy from being patched in to testify by video-conference from Washington.

So in an unusual development, the defendant in the nonjury trial, the village, has finished its case before the plaintiff, Brody.

Judge Harold Baer yesterday said he wanted Brody on the stand by March 30 because his calendar is crowded next month.

"I'm sympathetic to his plight, but I'm not going to let this stay open," he said.

Brody's lawyer, Dana Berliner, said she would talk to Brody and the doctor treating his relative to see when Brody could testify.

Brody has already won a judgment against the village in state court, where a Supreme Court justice recently awarded him $1 million plus interest as well as $200,000 in attorney fees.

"This is virtually unprecedented because in New York each side pays their own attorney fees," said Joshua Grauer, Brody's lawyer in the state case. "Port Chester now owes Mr. Brody $1.2 million with interest accruing daily."

Brody's federal case hinges on whether the village gave him actual notice in 1999 of its intent to seize his property. Brody said he was blindsided when he found out about it in 2000 and had run out of time to challenge the decision. The village says Brody was aware about the process and even had a conversation with one of the project developers about the village's decision soon after the village placed a legal ad in The Journal News in July 1999.

Because of Brody's case, the state changed the eminent domain law in 2004 to require municipalities to notify landowners by certified mail or personal delivery if they decide to seize land.

Michael Zarin, the attorney hired by Port Chester in 1997 to work on the project, testified yesterday about a public hearing a month before the village announced its decision. He said he never broached the topic of how property owners could challenge the village's determination to seize land. He said he thought landowners knew about the process, that the village had 90 days from that hearing to reach a determination and then property owners had 30 days to challenge it.


White Plains NY Journal News: http://www.thejournalnews.com