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Jury gives hollow victory to Linda’s Kitchen owners

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DIANA BUCKLEY
Ellis County Press
WAXAHACHIE -Linda Stanley couldn't help tearing up when she spoke about the restaurant in which she spent years of her life.

'They'll never pay us for our business,' she said. 'All they're paying us for is the land and the empty building.'

'Sticks and bricks,' her husband, Ed Stanley, agreed.

Linda's Kitchen, a popular restaurant along Highway 287 between Waxahachie and Midlothian, was condemned by the State of Texas in May 2000 to allow widening of the highway. Both sides appeared before Judge Bob Carroll in the County Court at Law last week to argue the value of the property.

The State's appraiser had set the property value at $695,000, while the landowners claimed a value of $870,000.

After more than three hours of deliberation, the jury set the value at $767,448 -- a hollow victory for the Stanleys.

According to State law, condemnation proceedings do not take into account the business or any loss of business, but instead assume business owners will rebuild at another location.

'We're taking the cook out of the kitchen,' said Assistant Attorney General John Lay.

Lay was somewhat flippant about the whole proceeding, cracking jokes before closing statements began. 'Your honor, the only warning I want during Mr. Beard's statements is when you think he's starting to win,' he quipped. 'And I want to be sure that's in the record.'

In his closing remarks, Lay quoted Shakespeare and suggested the landowners were 'jacking up' the value of the property knowingly and unjustly, hoping the jury would average the two figures.

'In adverse situations there's always an opportunity for somebody to take advantage,' he said. 'If it is really worth $870,000, I submit to you its highest and best use is for condemnation.'

Attorney Clay Beard of Corsicana, representing the Stanleys, worked hard to impeach the testimony of the State's appraiser and to strengthen the jurors' opinion of the Stanleys' appraiser.

'You are the sole judge of the credibility,' he said. 'That's the issue here — the credibility of the two appraisers. Which one was doing what he was supposed to do?'

The disparity between the two figures was caused primarily by three factors. First, the landowners' appraiser included two comparable sales which the State disallowed, both much higher than the other three tracts used in both appraisals.

Secondly, each appraiser used a different method of calculation to determine depreciation.

Finally, the two disagreed on application of a theory called 'entrepreneurial profit.'

Carroll was specific in his instructions for the jury: 'You will not decide an issue by lot or drawing straws, or by any other method of chance,' he stated.

'Do not return a quotient verdict. A quotient verdict means that the jurors agree to abide by the result to be reached by adding together each juror's figures and dividing by the number of jurors to get an average.'

Lay was direct in his request for the jury to side with the State.

'For heaven's sake, do not split the difference,' he said. 'That's a victory for the landowner.'

'If he's trying to imply that Ed and Linda are happy this has been taken from them, he is sadly mistaken,' responded Beard. 'He says I want you to compromise. I don't. This is about paying just compensation.'

While the exact method jurors used in reaching their verdict is not a part of the public record, it does seem apparent the five women and one man in the jury box worked out a calculation of their own. The amount set by jurors misses being an average of the two figures by $15,052, in the State's favor.

'We were so naïve,' said Linda. She does not plan to reopen the restaurant.

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