There are, unfortunately, times when we believe we have the full story….and don’t. When that occurs, incomplete information often becomes an incomplete—and unfair—story. Such is the case of our July 6 story (since removed) about a land dispute in Rapides Parish. Subsequent to the posting of that story, we have received considerable updated court filings that we were not given for our original story. The most significant of these, in our opinion, is an apparent court agreement between the disputing parties granting the Harrell family complete access to their property with the provision that the Harrells retain a surveyor to provide an accurate legal description of the access road to their property. For reasons known only to the Harrells, the surveyor was never employed.
A second factor concerned the scheduling of the trial “without notification” of the Harrells or their attorney. In fact, we later learned that their Baton Rouge attorney, who has subsequently been suspended by the Louisiana Supreme Court’s disciplinary board for refusing to return another client’s fee, was notified well in advance of the trial date but simply did not show up in court.
The other party to that dispute, Pineville attorney Wilbert Saucier, Jr., wrote the following response which we provide here in full. The references Mr. Saucier makes to the KKK were not ours, but were posted as comments to the original story. As requested by Mr. Saucier, the original story has been removed from our archives. We do not dodge our responsibility to our readers and a large part of that responsibility is a willingness to admit our errors.
Tom Aswell, Editor
Here is Mr. Saucier’s response:
Typically, I would ignore such a preposterous article as is the one you have written about me; however, given Mr. Robert Washington’s statement that he wants to hear my “opinion” on this matter, accompanied by the fact that I have been contacted by dozens of people wondering what in the world I had done, I felt it time to set the record straight. It is amazing to me that you and Mr. Washington would so maliciously misrepresent literally EVERY fact and finding involved in the two cases you referenced.
Dealing with the first case, that in which it was established conclusively that the Harrells were engaged in a pattern of disbursing trash in a manner to pollute my property, I would offer the following: the lawsuit, “Erris-Omega Plantation, Inc. vs. Henry Harrell, et al”, Civil Suit Number 99-404, Pineville City Court, Parish of Rapides, State of Louisiana, contains pleadings, evidence and documentation which fully supports my version of events, and destroys the fiction created by Mr. Washington. The truth, something with which you and Mr. Washington are clearly unfamiliar, or just too malicious to acknowledge, is that those Harrells whom were sued were found by overwhelming evidence to have caused damage to my property. The following explains.
In 1994, I acquired the Erris-Omega Plantation, a substantial piece of property which surrounds approximately 61 acres owned by the Harrell Family. Please note: at the time of my acquisition, my property AND the Harrell’s property were already gated and substantially fenced. Various gates were then relocated on my property, with a series of locks installed. Further, my gates were not the only ones through which the Harrells had to pass in order to access their property. The owners of the Harrell property were furnished keys to every gate allowing them complete and unfettered access to their property at no charge, with instructions to simply keep the gates closed and locked upon their ingress and egress. Mr. Washington and you fail to mention those factors.
The 61 acre Harrell property is bordered on Caney Bayou which flows through the Erris-Omega property for several miles. It became noticeable after every rain when the water in Caney Bayou rose, a new deposit of garbage and trash came onto the Erris-Omega property, coming directly from the Harrell property, where a garbage dump was maintained on the bank of Caney Bayou. I retained the services of attorneys Howard Gist, III and George Gaiennie to represent me in this matter. We brought suit against the heirs of Simon and Clara Harrell (19 heirs were named in the suit). This suit was first filed by my attorney in the 9th Judicial District Court, but when it was assigned to Judge Johnson’s division, my attorneys consulted with me about the then existing backlog in his docket and the amount of time it would have taken to adjudicate the issues. Based on their recommendation, the suit was dismissed from district court and re-filed in the Pineville City Court, a court of limited jurisdiction, i.e., a maximum of $15,000, at that time. I knew that I could have received more damages in district court, including from Judge Johnson, but I needed injunctive relief quickly to stop the Harrells from continuing to damage my property. A city court has a much quicker trial docket, and since the property was in Pineville, I was required to use Pineville City Court, in lieu of the Alexandria City Court.
After numerous depositions taken by the attorney for the Harrell family, this matter was scheduled for trial and was tried for 2 days, May 4, 2000, and June 7, 2000. During this trial, my attorney put on testimony from eleven (11) witnesses, seven (7) of which were eyewitnesses to the garbage/trash dump being maintained on the Harrrell property by the Harrell’s. Let me repeat that, seven (7) EYEWITNESSES to the dump! There was eyewitness testimony that Oscar K. Harrell, one of the owners, was conducting a garbage dump on the Harrell property and was seen hauling garbage in on an almost daily basis. There was eyewitness testimony from independent witnesses, a local farmer, and also a timber consultant/contractor who was on the property for a timber survey and harvesting of the Harrells timber. The timber consultant/contractor testified that, from February 1999 to April 1999, there was a significant build-up of garbage on the Harrell property, part of which was SEEN BY THEM and the other eyewitnesses to be transported onto the Erris-Omega property after each and every rain, by way of Caney Bayou. Notably, there was testimony from Mr. Henry Harrell, one of the owners, who ADMITTED to engaging in a clean up operation of the garbage dump on the Harrell property after the lawsuit was filed, with the help and assistance of other family members and friends. Please realize, THIS IS THE GARBAGE DUMP THAT MR. WASHINGTON SAYS NEVER EXISTED.
After the conclusion of the trial and submission of all of the evidence, including photographs, the proof was overwhelming and judgment was rendered in favor of Erris-Omega Plantation for damages in the amount of $15,000, plus costs of court, which included the costs of an expert witness. Importantly, this Judgment also included an injunction against the Harrell heirs: prohibiting them from trespassing on the Erris-Omega property (it had been a problem); enjoining them from depositing trash onto the Erris-Omega property, or onto their 61.67 acres in such a manner that it would migrate onto the Erris-Omega property; and enjoining them from harvesting deer or other wildlife from the Erris-Omega property, including along the levee and roadways located on and owned by Erris-Omega (again, it had been a problem). This Judgment specifically reserved the issue of access to the Harrell property, did not adjudicate same, and reserved all rights of the parties involved as it pertained to access issues. This Judgment can be found in the original suit record, and the detailed testimony of the witnesses is of record.
ANY judge, including Judge Donald Johnson, hearing the evidence of this case would have ruled the same as Judge Phillip Terrell ruled. Notably, any judge who, faced with the overwhelming evidence presented in this case, might have ruled differently, would have been summarily reversed by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal! It is important to note that, despite the complaints of Mr. Washington of the injustice and impropriety of the judgment, the Harrells decided to pay the damages rather than appeal the case to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal. If it was such a travesty, surely they would have had it reversed on appeal, right? Of course not! They were doing wrong, they got caught, they knew it, and they paid the judgment, rather than take what they and their lawyer knew would be a losing appeal. Then, in typical “we’re above the law” fashion that they seem to exhibit, the Harrells attempted to have the ENTIRETY of the Judgment dismissed by paying just the money portion. Remember, the judgment had an injunction against the Harrells to stop the bad acts, so the whole judgment should not have been cancelled. They filed a suit in district court (Civil Suit No. 202628) which was, as Mr. Washington noted, assigned to Judge Johnson. Please feel free to look at the judgment in that suit, because Judge Johnson ruled, as he should have, in MY FAVOR, holding that the cancellation of the judgment was to be a PARTIAL cancellation, only of the money portion, as opposed to the total cancellation which the Harrells sought. That ruling by Judge Johnson was inherently correct, and Mr. Washington’s assertion that Judge Johnson thought there was something untoward about the judgment is, as most of his outrageous assertions, incorrect, preposterous, and malicious. You may be interested to know that the judgment, with its injunctive relief, remains in full force, even today. The cancellation is related only to the money portion. (See: 9th Judicial District Court, Clerk of Court’s Mortgage records, document number 1144725, Mortgage Book 1660, page 0032).
The next case is civil suit number 222,091 filed with the 9th Judicial District Court entitled “Succession of Simon Harrell and Succession of Clara Harrell versus Erris-Omega Plantation, Inc. and Wilbert J. Saucier, Jr. filed in 2005.” IN THIS CASE, THE HARRELL FAMILY FILED SUIT AGAINST ME (just opposite of what you reported). Once again, the records will show that, for years prior to Erris-Omega purchasing the surrounding property, the Harrell’s had to pass through locked gates to get to their property. When I purchased the property in 1994, the locations of the gates were changed and the Harrell’s were given keys to all gates I installed at no charge, they were simply instructed to close and lock my gates on ingress and egress. ALL FENCE AND GATES CONSTRUCTED BY ME WERE BUILT ON THE ERRIS-OMEGA PROPERTY AND NOT ON THE HARRELL PROPERTY. AT NO TIME WERE THE HARRELL’S EVER LOCKED OUT OR FENCED OUT OF THEIR PROPERTY AND AT NO TIME HAD THE HARRELL’S EVER OBTAINED A RIGHT OF WAY ACROSS MY PROPERTY, or any of the other private property they crossed. On September 15, 2005, the Harrell’s chose to file this civil suit against me claiming that they had a right of way and saying that they also wanted injunctions which would make me keep my gates open and essentially asking that the fences on my property which belong to me be taken down. After the suit was answered, the matter proceeded on to trial and in Pre-Trial discussion it was made clear to the Harrell’s and to their attorney, Mr. Gerard Torry, that the Harrell’s had absolutely no right to request that my gates and fence be taken down or left open, leaving essentially the only issue of whether or not the Harrell’s should be granted a right of way across my property. The court record will reflect that I willingly entered into a Stipulation where I agreed to voluntarily grant a right of way to the Harrell’s in the form of a perpetual servitude across my property to theirs, once same was identified by survey as to the exact boundaries that it would cover. The Harrell’s stipulated that they would contract for and pay for the survey. The amount they were to pay for the right of way (which they did not have before and which is done in virtually all servitudes) was to be determined by the court at a later time. (ALL IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE APPLICABLE LOUISIANA LAW). The Harrell’s through their attorney, Gerard Torry of Baton Rouge, entered into this Stipulation in open court, agreeing to be bound by the agreement. This Stipulation would have ended the matter at that time and would have granted to the Harrell’s perpetual access to their property, with only the court determination of the compensation remaining.
The Harrell’s, when presented with the written documents establishing the right of way agreement, changed their minds and refused to follow through with their agreement which had been stipulated to in open court. At this point, the matter proceeded on to trial. (REMEMBER IT WAS THE HARRELL’S WHO FILED THIS SUIT AND THE HARRELL’S WHO REFUSED TO HONOR THE AGREEMENT WHICH WAS STIPULATED TO IN THE RECORD!) A trial date was selected by the court and on the eve of the trial, Mr. Gerard Torry filed an Ex Parte Motion for Continuance. (THERE IS NO PROVISION IN LOUISIANA LAW WHICH ALLOWS AN ATTORNEY TO FILE AND JUST ASSUME THAT HIS EX PARTE CONTINUANCE WILL BE GRANTED. MOTIONS FOR CONTINUANCES HAVE TO BE TRIED CONTRADICTORILY WITH BOTH SIDES BEING HEARD, THEN THE COURT DECIDES WHETHER A CONTINUANCE IS GRANTED OR DENIED.) Mr. Torry then failed and refused to appear in court either for the continuance argument or for trial. Not only did Mr. Torry refuse to appear, but the entire Harrell family refused to appear. This matter proceeded to trial as scheduled and the action brought by the Harrell’s was dismissed, with prejudice (for all time). The court records show that not only was Attorney Torry notified of the trial date, but he moved to continue the trial and it was by his own actions of not following up and arguing his position for continuance that caused the dismissal. This matter has been appealed by the Harrell’s to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal and to the Louisiana Supreme Court, both of which ruled in accord with law that the Harrell’s were wrong, and the Judgment is now final. To suggest that I am in cahoots with either the District Court Judge, the Court of Appeal, or the Supreme Court, is utterly ridiculous, but seems to be your thought process and that of Mr. Robert Washington. Your article talks about a “Federal Land and Conveyance Law Reform Act”, which you say went into effect December 1, 2009 and you provide a link to the law which, unlike most of your readers, I accessed. You suggested that this law implicated Judge Randow and me as conspiring on the timing of the judgment. The law you refer to regarding servitudes is a law established in the country of IRELAND! Do you honestly think that Ireland’s law is applicable in Rapides Parish? Further, do you think that I’m in collusion with Judges all the way to the Supreme Court based on Irish law. You sir, apparently have not checked any of the facts. I would at this time request that you disclose the source of your information upon which you relied in printing this libelous blog which you have served to spread all over the state. To write that the Harrell’s enjoyed an unrestricted right of way for some 80 years is preposterous. There were always gates and fences, JUST AS THE HARRELL’S HAVE ON THEIR PROPERTY!
Since the rendition of the previous judgment and the denial of supervisory writs by the Louisiana Supreme court which makes the judgment final, Robert Washington, the man you identified as being the spokesman for the Harrell family, personally filed a claim in April of this year saying that by virtue of Article 742 he and his family were entitled to a servitude of right of way. This claim has been summarily dismissed as it has already been fully litigated between the parties. I might add, it was litigated after being raised by the Harrell’s themselves, who refused to accept the stipulated right of way and then refused to appear in court on the trial of their own suit. The Harrell’s have no quarrel here with the legal system. If they feel that they have been misrepresented in any fashion, they need to look elsewhere than the judges and me. The Harrells through their own arrogance have defiantly and proverbially “cut off their noses to spite their faces” and instead of living up to their agreement in the stipulation, they chose to ignore the facts and the law, resulting in a loss of their rights. The Harrell family still owns its 61.67 acres, and neither I nor Erris-Omega Plantation have obtained any rights to this property. TO REFER TO THIS MATTER AS A “LAND GRAB” AS YOU HAVE IS AN OUTRIGHT LIE. I have never set foot on the Harrell property. The Harrell’s still have all of the rights that pertain to any landowner as it concerns their 61.67 acres; however, by their own actions, they have precluded themselves from entering onto Erris-Omega property (MY PROPERTY). Further, for Mr. Washington now to make scandalous allegations comparing me and the attorneys who represented me and the Judges involved in both of these cases as “The KKK” is not only slanderous but now libelous and carries with it consequences. By printing Mr. Robert Washington’s assertions that Judge Phillip Terrell or Judge Harry Randow or I did anything wrong or illegal or that any of us are associated with the KKK (I ASSUME HE MEANS THE KU KLUX KLAN) simply illustrates this man’s own bigotry and racism. You, Mr. Robert Washington, and all that have continued to further this ridiculous lying version of these two cases, owe Judge Randow and Judge Phillip Terrell an apology. You, Mr. Aswell, also owe all of us not only an apology, but the obligation of publishing this response and sending it to every link that picked up your “Land Grab” article. Additionally, once we have been given equal internet/air time, you should immediately take the entirety of the matter off of your blog site.