Property in APA lawsuit sold

HAWKEYE – Leroy Douglas has sold the Silver Lake property that’s the subject of a still-pending, multi-million-dollar federal lawsuit he filed three years ago against the state Adirondack Park Agency and the Adirondack Council.

Records on file with the Clinton County Real Property Office show Douglas sold six parcels totaling 17.1 acres on Island Road in the town of Black Brook earlier this year to Donald Burrell and Kevin Williams for $350,000. The deal does not include the nearby resort and campground Douglas and his family own and operate on Silver Lake.

One of the parcels included in the transaction is an 11-acre lot that was the subject of an enforcement case the APA pursued against Douglas for filling in wetlands to widen an existing road. The violations were resolved by a 2006 settlement agreement, but Douglas claims the Council and its then-chairman, Brian Ruder, a neighbor of Douglas on Silver Lake, conspired with the APA to reopen the enforcement case against him in 2007. He’s alleged that Ruder pushed the APA to take action to stop his plans to subdivide and develop the lakefront property, which has been listed in the state’s Open Space Conservation Plan.

Douglas’ lawyer, Matthew Norfolk of Lake Placid, confirmed that the property had been sold, and he wrote in an email that his client declined to comment. A family member of Douglas told the Enterprise Wednesday that the land was sold to help pay for the mounting legal costs in the case. Douglas had planned to subdivide the land into smaller building lots and sell them for much more than the $350,000, the family member said.

“The whole point of subdividing the land was to sell the lots for a profit,” wrote Norfolk, who said his legal fees weren’t paid from the proceeds of the sale of the lots. “Part of the pending lawsuit is a claim that the development and sales of the lots were foiled by the repetitive and unlawful APA enforcement proceeding that we allege was commenced, at least in part, due to Brian Ruder’s directive.”

The sale of the land was mentioned in a recent status update on the lawsuit filed by the Council’s attorney. Norfolk said it doesn’t affect the merits of Douglas’ case.

“The fact that it was in (the status update) had to do with issues of if they want to look at the property and inspect it,” Norfolk said. “If the defendants want to inspect it for whatever reason, we can’t necessarily give permission now. They’re going to have to get it from the current landowner.”

Douglas filed the suit in March 2010, seeking more than $67 million plus punitive damages and attorney fees.

In September of last year, a federal judge dismissed many of Douglas’ claims against the Council and the APA, but he left enough for the case to proceed to trial, including Douglas’ claim that the state agency and the environmental advocacy group conspired to reopen the enforcement case against him.

In the ruling, U.S. District Judge Glenn Suddaby specifically referred to allegations that Ruder and APA employee Doug Miller had a phone conversation, which Ruder later summarized in a lengthy email message to Miller, that spelled out a plan of action for the agency to take against Douglas, including offers from Ruder to provide legal assistance to the APA.

The Council has said its communications with the APA are “protected speech and petitioning of government,” but Suddaby’s decision said the lawsuit alleges facts “plausibly suggesting that the (Adirondack Council) defendants and the APA defendants reached a meeting of the minds as to what actions to take against (Douglas).”

Since the decision, Norfolk said both sides have been exchanging documents in preparation for a trial, which is scheduled to take place in Plattsburgh sometime next year.

In recent months, both sides have agreed to let Hawkeye Conservationists, a nonprofit Silver Lake-area conservation group that Ruder had also been affiliated with, out of the case.

“The more we looked at what we could get for paperwork or everything we had, there wasn’t really any outcry from Hawkeye Conservationists about the Douglas Corporation,” Norfolk said. “That’s why we agreed to it. We said, ‘Look, maybe we don’t need to have this more complicated than it needs to be with another party that had nothing to do with this” So we dismissed it without prejudice. In the event something were to show up, we could arguably bring it back.”

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or