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Legal battle over Walmart heating up over plaintiffs' requests for information. County's foes seek to determine whether Orange employees felt pressured to advance development plan
Date published: 10/19/2010
BY CLINT SCHEMMER
It looks as if every square inch of the court case over a Walmart in the Wilderness battlefield area will be contested ground.
This Thursday, Circuit Judge Daniel R. Bouton is set to hear Orange County Attorney Sharon Pandak's motion to block the plaintiffs from questioning county supervisors. Attorneys for the nonprofit Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield and six area residents say the supervisors' testimony is "critical to this litigation."
The local group and the Orange and Spotsylvania residents are trying to overturn the Orange Board of Supervisors' 2009 decision to grant a special "big-box" permit for a 51-acre, 240,000-square-foot retail center anchored by a Walmart Supercenter. The project is planned for a ridge overlooking the intersection of State Routes 3 and 20, near Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
In addition to the Board of Supervisors, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the landowner and the site developer also are defendants.
In a brief filed last week, the plaintiffs' attorneys oppose the county's attempt to block the supervisors' depositions.
"Having approved perhaps the most significant zoning action in the history of Orange County, members of the board argue they should not have to 'spend unnecessary time' providing their testimony in this litigation," the brief states. "Even after the court has denied the board's entreaties to dismiss this action, the board apparently still fails to take plaintiffs' claims seriously."
The plaintiffs are also asking Bouton to rule on the county's denial of other information in the two-way discovery process that precedes trial.
This summer, Bouton chided attorneys for both sides for what he called a "contentious dispute over the exchange of information." He persuaded them to sit down and discuss what would be shared.
The defense said it has turned over more information than required, that the information being sought is not relevant, and that other information cannot be disclosed under attorney-client privilege and personnel rules.
But in their latest filings, the plaintiffs contend that the outstanding questions they have raised go to the heart of their argument.
Much of the plaintiffs' brief against Pandak's motion focuses on transportation issues raised by the development.
In a renewed motion to compel the Orange County Board of Supervisors to produce documents, the plaintiffs in the Wilderness Walmart case ask:
That the board provide a detailed log of supposedly privileged communications so the plaintiffs and the court can assess whether they are protected.
That the court order the supervisors to produce all documents involved in their firing of County Administrator William Rolfe. The plaintiffs claim the board fired Rolfe for suggesting, in an e-mail later made public, that it should consider alternative sites for the retail center farther from the national park "to preserve the battlefield as a tourist destination."
That the court compel supervisors and current or former county officials to answer questions about personnel matters. Besides Rolfe, "other county employees were at least uncertain about the status of their positions with the county during the crucial time" when the staff was reviewing the Walmart proposal for action by the supervisors, the plaintiffs state.