Tuesday, April 13, 2010

ESDC pushes for eviction order by April 21; lawyer for some condemnees says timeline is unlikely, given judge's desire to avoid role of sheriff

After yesterday's hearing on the case challenging the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) 2006 Determination & Findings to pursue eminent domain, I also inquired about a hearing April 9 before Kings County Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges regarding the condemnation process.

Bottom line: the ESDC wants to get an eviction order after an oral argument in court on Wednesday, April 21; attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff thinks it's unlikely.



Brinckerhoff is one of several lawyers involved in this case, which includes a broad number of condemnees, including several property owners who have otherwise not formally challenged the project. (Video shot by Jonathan Barkey.)

What happened April 9

Brinckheroff said that the lawyers discussed "very specific details of the valuation process," including the provision of advance payments, which are necessary in order for people to seek new premises even though they may no longer have title to their property.

ESDC lawyer Charles Webb, according to Brinckerhoff, said such payments would be available within two weeks of fulfilling certain conditions.

"They also presented an order to show cause," said Brinckerhoff. "They want to make a motion requesting an order allowing them to get the sheriff to evict everybody. That was made returnable for argument on April 21."

Soon or later?

That could lead to a writ of assistance, essentially an order of eviction issued by the court. "There's a very strong argument that it's incredibly premature," Brinckerhoff said. "Normally that's a process that takes many, many months."

The ESDC's justification, he said, is that "the developer is losing something like $7 million a month" on carrying the property. (He later said he wasn't certain of the figure; I haven't seen the document yet.)

The gist of the ESDC argument, he said, is that "this project is so important that it really doesn't matter whether people's lives are going to be disrupted. We really have to keep our eye on the ball, which is the financial injury to Forest City Ratner."

"I guess that could happen," Brinckerhoff said of an April 21 eviction order. "I think that is manifestly unlikely, and borderline impossible, if nothing else because it's clear that Justice Gerges--he wants everybody to try to work this out somehow. He said this much in court."

Compromise or stand-off?

"I think he's going to want to exhaust, as any judge should, frankly, all possible options before he orders the sheriff to come and remove people from their homes," he said.

Why? "It looks bad and presumably, he as a judge is going to be interested in the rights and lives of all people involved in this, not just Forest City Ratner and its pocketbook." That would mean "a way that causes as little disruption as possible. Issuing an immediate order... doesn't seem consistent with that."

Aren't some people not willing to work it out? "I know that Freddy's Bar has made it clear that they want to be there when the bulldozers come, with their handcuffs to the bar," he said. "I don't really know anything more than that."

An eviction order also would complicate the pending case discussed in court yesterday; the next hearing will be May 12. Presumably representatives of the plaintiffs would want to stay such an order forcing their departure, since victory in their case could completely unscramble the egg.

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