Sabal Trail loses jury trial in Valdosta, GA 2018-06-26

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 26, 2018, Valdosta, GA — The jury deliberated a bit less than an hour two hours, delivering a verdict just before 7PM tonight: $103,385 for easement and $4,531.50 for timber. The figures offered by Sabal Trail were $19,979 for easement and $4,117 for timber. Assuming these numbers transcribed from various speakers are correct, the jury awarded five times what Sabal Trail offered for the pipeline easement and somewhat more than their offer for timber.

“When Sabal Trail goes to jury trial, it loses,” said Suwannee Riverkeeper John S. Quarterman.

Here are the winners, waiting in the hall before the jury came back:

Fred Jones, Lynn Lasseter, Jonathan Waters, Reese Waters
The winners: Fred Jones, Lynn Lasseter (Defendant), Jonathan Waters (attorney), Reese Waters (attorney’s assistant)

This jury verdict from the U.S. Court, Middle District of Georgia, is very similar to the five times easement award of a jury in the Middle District of Florida in March.

The jury today made this award in Case No 4:16-cv-102 even though Clay D. Land, Chief U.S. District Judge, Middle District of Georgia, did not let the defendant’s attorney, Jonathan P. Waters, talk about sigma or market devaluation or safety or environmental issues. When Waters in his initial remarks started to talk about how Sabal Trail claimed its pipeline is for public benefit, yet even FERC’s permit admits it is purely for profit, the judge cut him off and said the jury couldn’t consider that, and must focus only on fair market value, which is the only subject of this trial, even if the pipeline stood to profit $100 billion. Waters noted that Plaintiff’s attorney Matthew Calvert did talk about environmental issues in his opening statement, but Judge Land said that was not admissible, either, and nobody could talk about any of those things.

Calvert yesterday swore in a witness whom he claimed would testify exactly the same as a different witness Waters had deposed. Judge Land was having none of that, and repeatedly said that if the witness could schedule being deposed, he could schedule showing up as a live witness. Eventually the judge ruled “This witness shall not be allowed to testify.”

Judge Land also did not let the defendant, W. Lynn Lasseter of Moultrie, GA, testify about market valuation, and he did not let the defendant’s appraiser, Jeane Easom of Macon, testify at all.

Plaintiff’s appraiser, J. Carl Schultz of Atlanta, testified at length, except when asked about how much he was paid, when his memory failed. Plaintiff’s attorney in his summation pointed at a filed document that showed about $11,000 paid to Shultz’ firm for three appraisals. Defendant attorney Waters in his summation made hay out of that: $11,000 times 40 appraisals is about half a million dollars, far more than ever offered to the defendant.

After the jury gave its verdict and the judge dismissed them, Judge Land discussed next steps with the attorneys, and decided to have the Clerk of Court enter a standard judgement. This appears to mean Sabal Trail should pay the amounts awarded by the jury and get title to the easement. The judge noted he expected post-trial motions or appeal. Both attorneys said they would consult with their clients on that. Waters noted they did not waive their right to appeal.

Judge Land then said he wanted to combine all the other four cases into one and try it in Valdosta in September, starting shortly after Labor Day. Calvert noted he had different expert witnesses for different cases. The judge said he wanted to avoid going through Voir Dire four times. Waters suggested Voir Dire for a large pool of jurors, then select a jury for each trial one by one. The judge said he would consider that, and asked the attorneys to check their calendars for September.

The remaining defendants include Sandra Y. Jones of Moultrie, whose husband Fred Jones was in the courtroom yesterday and today.

We shall see if Sabal Trail will lose four more times in September.

About WWALS Watershed Coalition, Inc. (WWALS)

Founded in June 2012, WWALS has supported solar power and has opposed the Sabal Trail fracked methane pipeline since 2013, including its associated LNG export terminals. WWALS Watershed Coalition, Inc. is an IRS 501(c)(3) educational charity.

WWALS advocates for conservation and stewardship of the Withlacoochee, Willacoochee, Alapaha, Little, and Suwannee River watersheds in south Georgia and north Florida through education, awareness, environmental monitoring, and citizen activities. John S. Quarterman is the Suwannee Riverkeeper®, which is a staff position and a project of WWALS Watershed Coalition (WWALS) as the Member of the Waterkeeper® Alliance for the Suwannee River basin.

Contact:

WWALS Watershed Coalition
P.O. Box 88
Hahira, GA 31632
www.wwals.net
wwalswatershed@gmail.com
850-290-2350

John S. Quarterman
Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®
contact@suwanneeriverkeeper.org
229-242-0102

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 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

You can join this fun and work by becoming a WWALS member today!

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