Judge tells county to pay more in suit costs – Melville decision overturned

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Judge tells county to pay more in suit costs By Quintin Cushner/Staff Writer A judge Tuesday ordered Santa Barbara County to pay more than $1.1 million in attorney’s fees and court costs to two agriculture companies whom the county wrongly barred from farming an Orcutt property. Visiting Superior Court Judge Roger Randall also denied the county’s request for a new trial in the case. On Nov. 22, a jury awarded Adam Bros. Farming and Iceberg Holdings $5.6 million in damages, ruling that the county had fraudulently declared 95 acres of a 268-acre parcel near Solomon Road and Highway 1 an environmentally sensitive wetland, and therefore off-limits to farming. The November verdict also made three county employees and a consultant individually responsible to pay punitive damages of $130,000 as part of the $5.6 million award. Randall on Tuesday also voided a $10,000 judgment against Noel Langle, deputy director of the county’s Zoning Administration Division, finding that there was no proof the employee had acted with any malice. However, the judge said former Santa Barbara County Planning and Development employees Elihu Gevirtz and Dan Gira still must pay $40,000 and $50,000, respectively, and consultant Katherine Rindlaub must pay $30,000. County Counsel Shane Stark said his office would recommend that the Board of Supervisors appeal the judgment within the legally mandated 30 days. An appeal on behalf of the individuals would be filed within a few days, said defense lawyer David Pettit. On Dec. 7, the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to post an appeal bond covering the individual damages. But the board also reserved the right to withdraw the bond and decline to back the individuals financially. The Adams bought the Orcutt property in 1997 and planned to grow broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce there before the county intervened. The land had been declared a wetland prior to the purchase. The jury found in November that the wetland designation made by Rindlaub was not valid, and that the companies’ equal-protection and due-process rights had been violated because their land had been singled out with a false wetland designation. Jurors also found that Gevirtz conspired with Rindlaub against Adam Bros., and that only 14 acres of the property qualified as a wetland. The jury awarded $5.47 million in compensatory damages to the companies, along with the $130,000 in punitive damages. Tuesday, the total amount the county was ordered to pay in attorney’s fees and costs added up to $1,138,406. The lawsuit against the county was filed in 2000 and dismissed by Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville. In 2002, the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles allowed the case to move forward on four of the original nine counts. Because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a stop order based on the wetland designation, the property still cannot be legally farmed. That issue is expected to go to federal court this year. * Staff writer Quintin Cushner can be reached at 739-2217 or by e-mail at qcushner@pulitzer.net. Jan. 5, 2005 Source: http://www.santamariatimes.com/articles/2005/01/05/news/local/news03.txt

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