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Plattsburgh trial set for Douglas’ case vs. APA

November 17, 2012
By CHRIS KNIGHT - Senior Staff Writer (cknight@adirondackdailyenterprise.com) , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Leroy Douglas' multi-million-dollar lawsuit against the state Adirondack Park Agency and the Adirondack Council will be heard in Douglas' home county.

U.S. District Court Judge Glenn T. Suddaby, in a scheduling order filed Wednesday, ordered the jury trial to be held in Plattsburgh. It's expected to take roughly five days to complete although the trial is not likely to take place until sometime in 2014.

Douglas' attorney, Matthew Norfolk of Lake Placid, said in a statement that he and his client, who lives in Silver Lake, are excited that Douglas will have his day in court so close to home.

"I whole-heartedly agree with Judge Suddaby that the important issues raised by this lawsuit, which call into question the practices and conduct of the Adirondack Park Agency and The Adirondack Council, should be heard and decided in the North Country, by those living in the North Country and the Adirondack Park," Norfolk said. "This is the first time that I have had a federal case set to be tried in Plattsburgh - and not in Albany or Syracuse."

The case involves an enforcement action the APA pursued against Douglas for filling in wetlands on his Silver Lake property to widen an existing road. The violations were resolved by a 2006 settlement agreement, but Douglas claims the Council and Brian Ruder, then-chairman of the group's board of directors and a neighbor of Douglas on Silver Lake, worked in concert with the APA to reopen the enforcement case against him in 2007.

Douglas claims the Council was pushing the APA to take action to stop his development plans and force Douglas to sell his lakefront property, which has been listed in the state's Open Space Conservation Plan, to the state or The Nature Conservancy.

The APA has said its employees and officials did nothing improper. The agency says it opened the second enforcement case because Douglas didn't remediate the wetlands violations according to the terms of the 2006 settlement, and because APA staff discovered more wetlands had been impacted by Douglas' road work than they first thought. In court papers, attorneys for the APA have called the allegations that its staff and the Council conspired "simply nonsense."

The Council's attorney has said the environmental group asked the agency to monitor and ensure the proper regulations are applied to Douglas' development, saying such actions are "within the stated purpose of the organization" and are "protected speech and petitioning of government."

In September, Suddaby rejected many of the claims Douglas brought against the APA and the Council, but he left enough for the case to proceed to trial, including Douglas' conspiracy claims. The judge said the lawsuit alleges facts "plausibly suggesting that the (Adirondack Council) defendants and the APA defendants reached a meeting of the minds as to what actions to take against (Douglas)."

Last month the judge, at Norfolk's request, reinstated a state law malicious prosecution claim against the APA. He also denied a request from Hawkeye Conservationists, a nonprofit Silver Lake-area conservation group, to be let out of the case.

Douglas filed the suit in March 2010, seeking more than $67 million, plus punitive damages and attorney fees. The lawsuit names a half-dozen APA defendants, including agency attorney Paul Van Cott, staff members Doug Miller and Mark Rooks, then-agency counsel John Banta, who has since retired, APA Commissioner and Enforcement Committee Chairman Cecil Wray and former agency Chairman Curt Stiles. The Council defendants include the group's former director, Brian Houseal, Scott Lorey and Ruder.

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Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or cknight@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.

 
 

 

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