2012-05-25 / Community

Judge to preside over beach sessions

Goose Rocks Beach litigation heads to four conferences
By Adam Chabot
Staff Writer


Parties in the Goose Rocks Beach litigation will meet in settlement conferences next month in front of Justice Andrew Horton of Cumberland County. These conferences are designed to re-open discussion between all sides and to potentially settle the dispute of property ownership, property rights and enforcement of those rights, before it heads to trial in August. (Adam Chabot photo) Parties in the Goose Rocks Beach litigation will meet in settlement conferences next month in front of Justice Andrew Horton of Cumberland County. These conferences are designed to re-open discussion between all sides and to potentially settle the dispute of property ownership, property rights and enforcement of those rights, before it heads to trial in August. (Adam Chabot photo) All parties involved with the Goose Rocks Beach litigation will meet in four private conferences with Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Andrew Horton to discuss settling the ongoing dispute over private property rights, public access to Goose Rocks Beach and the town’s enforcement of any settlement plan, among other things.

The conferences will take place on June 11, 15, 19 and 25 and all parties, including Goose Rocks Beach property owners who filed the suit, local property owners who support the defendants (TMF Group) and Kennebunkport town officials, will be in attendance.

The June 11 conference will be held at the Cumberland County Superior Courthouse in Portland, the remaining three will be held in the third-floor meeting room at the Kennebunk Town Hall.

“This is a conference with a judge (who is not the judge sitting at trial) where the pros and cons of each side are discussed and ideas are exchanged about resolving the matter short of a trial,” said Durward Parkinson in a press release.

“We know that right now we’re in the planning stages for these conferences,” Parkinson said. “Both sides should appreciate the advantages of settling … (but) it’s possible there are folks on one side or the other that don’t want to settle.”

Parkinson said parties are “strongly encouraged” to attend, and if someone vested in the case cannot be at a conference in person, options to communicate by phone will be made available.

Parkinson also said all four of these conferences are private. He stressed that he will be keeping the public updated and doesn’t want the case to become a “closed door” case, but he also said, “Once we get in there and start talking, those will be confidential.”

According to the press release, Parkinson will be assisting Justice Horton in the conferences.

“The lawyers, I think, picked (Horton),” Parkinson said. “He commands a high level of respect. He’s highly intelligent and creative and settled a lot of big cases.”

Parkinson was hired by the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust at the end of April, with the hopes that he could move along settlement efforts.

“Durward has a lot of experience in this type of thing,” said Tom Bradbury, executive director of the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust. “He has the ability to hear everyone and see where the differences are and work towards resolving those differences.”

Bradbury said the trust’s role in the conferences is to support Parkinson in the settlement efforts.

“From (the trust’s) opinion, a settlement would be best for everyone,” Bradbury said.

“We need to see if we can find any ways to bring people together toward that.”

Herb Cohen, a member of the TMF Group, said the conferences aren’t the same as mediation, but rather a chance to reignite settlement talks. Cohen previously had said settlement discussions had stalled, but is pleased with what the conferences can do for the communication efforts from all sides.

“The settlement is going to be best for the community,” Cohen said. “You’re taking control of your destiny rather than the court deciding for you.”

Cohen said he hopes all sides will come to the table with open minds and a willingness to reach a settlement decision. Cohen added that he is pleased with where the settlement process is headed, adding that Justice Horton is “quite respected, quite interested,” in the dispute.

Stuart Barwise, Kennebunkport selectmen chairman, is participating in the settlement process and said the municipality is approaching the conferences with “complete and total good faith and an open mind.”

“We’re approaching this as a great opportunity and with optimism,” Barwise said.

Barwise also said Parkinson’s inclusion in the conferences “can only be good for the process” and that Parkinson is “as good as it gets” when it comes to issues such as the Goose Rocks Beach dispute.

In March, a proposed settlement plan put together by a working group of members from all parties was sent out to all Goose Rocks Beach property owners.

As of May 15, a total of 291 property owners, regardless of their stance in the dispute, were contacted with the hopes of getting opinions and answering questions about the proposal. Out of the 291 property owners, 198 supported the plan, 19 wanted more information, eight did not support a settlement and 66 did not reply.

According to the initially proposed settlement plan, the agreement was not to move forward until 80 percent of the plaintiffs and the law firm executed it and if 80 percent of all beachfront owners agreed to the plan. Those numbers were not reached, according to reports.

Despite the apparently large support for the settlement plan, some plaintiffs in the case want to make sure they don’t lose their property rights.

Terry O’Connor, a plaintiff in the dispute, said the settlement process is a “complex situation involving many different properties, each with unique issues.”

“Regarding the current impasse, I think it is fair to say that our settlement discussion group crafted a deal that most plaintiffs felt did not offer enough protection for their property rights,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor said he hopes an appropriate solution that will benefit everyone can be reached, but isn’t sure if the bridge between the parties can be mended.

“I hope that some solution can be found, but given the number of parties, and the emotions, it may not be possible to settle,” O’Connor said.

Parkinson said he thinks there will be a lot of “wading in the weeds” when it comes to this case. He said the entirety of Goose Rocks Beach isn’t the same in every location so if a settlement agreement is reached, it may have to be customized in certain ways.

It is unclear when the public will know the details about the conferences, but if a settlement cannot be reached, it is likely the dispute will be brought to trial.

Parkinson also said a trial has been scheduled for some time in August, however he wanted to make it clear that if a settlement doesn’t emerge from the conferences, it doesn’t mean a settlement can’t still be reached.

“There are difficult issues to resolve, but with some compromise on everyone’s part settlement can be achieved,” Parkinson said in the press release. “Settlement allows us to avoid a bitter legal battle with the community and places the outcome of the case in our hands.”

Staff Writer Adam Chabot can be reached at 282-4337 ext. 233

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