BERLIN – The trial regarding occupancy restrictions at White Horse Park has been delayed until at least March.
A judge this week granted a motion for continuance filed by the attorney representing the plaintiffs, a group of full-time White Horse Park residents suing Worcester County over plans to enforce long-ignored occupancy restrictions. A trial had been scheduled for Dec. 15 and 16.
“The trial for December is being administratively postponed,” an announcement on the White Horse Park Community Association website reads.
Last year, a group of residents filed a lawsuit against the county over its plan to enforce decades-old occupancy restrictions in White Horse Park. Though some people have lived in the park for years, it was only in 2018 that the county began efforts to bring the community into compliance with its zoning restrictions, which state that units can’t be occupied year-round.
Though a trial was set for Dec. 15 and 16, attorney Hugh Cropper, representing the group of full-time residents, asked for a continuance last month. He cited the growing number of coronavirus cases in the United States and the age of his clients, many of whom are elderly.
“At this time, these plaintiffs are in fear of attending the trial in the circuit court, although they are very desirous of telling their story,” he wrote in his motion.
Cropper supplemented the motion with the information that the White Horse Park Community Association, which is Worcester County’s co-defendant in the case, had postponed its annual election because of COVID-19.
Both Worcester County and the White Horse Park Community Association opposed the motion to continue the trial. Victoria Shearer, the attorney representing Worcester County in the case, wrote in her opposition that it was just an attempt by Cropper to avoid an adverse legal ruling at trial.
“As plaintiffs’ intentions of delay and avoidance are transparent, defendant hereby opposes the motion to continue the trial date,” her opposition reads. “The county seeks a just and speedy resolution of this matter.”
On Monday, a Worcester County Circuit Court judge granted Cropper’s motion to continue the trial. A motions hearing — regarding Cropper’s request to dismiss Worcester County as a defendant and have the case proceed solely against the White Horse Park Community Association — will still take place Dec. 15. Though they opposed the continuance of the trial, Shearer and James Almand, the attorney representing the community association, are now advocating against holding the motions hearing. Almand has asked Cropper to withdraw the motion.
“I agree that an in-person hearing is unfair and unnecessary,” Shearer wrote in an in an email to Cropper and Almand this week. “There is no reason it cannot be held via video remotely. I even asked his law clerk to request a video conference hearing. I politely asked his law clerk if it was not contradictory for the court to cancel the trial due to Covid-19 concerns, but still hold a hearing in person. She said the Judge thinks the difference is that a trial would require witnesses and a hearing does not. I explained that it is a 3-hour drive for me and I need to stop along the way, etc.”
Shearer went on to suggest all three parties file a motion for a video hearing. As of Thursday, the motions hearing was still set for Dec. 15 at 1:30 p.m.