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Afton takes the stand

One of the biggest thorns in Afton's side -- its lawsuit with GJ&M -- could be resolved this week.

The case of GJ&M Development Inc. v. Afton began Monday, Nov. 30 at the Washington County Courthouse in Stillwater. Judge Mary Hannon heard the case.

The initial lawsuit between Afton and GJ&M was filed in 2007 by developer Gordy Jarvis, who claims that a moratorium on downtown development, which stopped his proposed Afton Center project, was illegally executed. Jarvis also alleges his development application was wrongfully ruled incomplete and thrown out by the city.

Legal counsel for both parties met with Hannon Monday morning to discuss which claims, witnesses and evidence would be allowed during the trial.

Following the preliminary deliberations the prospective jurors piled into the courtroom to await their fate. Out of roughly 30 potential jurors, 11 were drawn for questioning by Hannon and the attorneys.

Many of the questions revolved around any knowledge of the case, any past experience or familiarity with the city of Afton or Gordy Jarvis.

Judge Hannon also read off a list of possible witnesses -- including Jarvis and his partner Gary Moss, city administrator Jim Norman, city planner Chuck Marohn council members Peg Nolz and Randy Nelson, former council member Nick Mucciacciaro, former mayors Charlie Devine, Dave Engstrom and Julia Welter, former city administrator Shelly Strauss, former city engineer John Perotti, former city attorney Mitch Converse, representatives from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Afton residents and business owners among others.

One prospective juror happened to be a resident of Afton, who lives on a large lot in a rural neighborhood, knew a bit about the proposed project and the lawsuit. The juror indicated that he wasn't sure if he would be able to be an impartial party since he did not favor development and would most likely lean towards the defendant. He was removed from the jury box.

Other juror questions included past experience with development, whether or not they could be fair to government officials and various other questions about their histories and experiences.

After extensive questioning by both parties, the jurors were narrowed down to seven for the trial.

The jury trial was scheduled to continue through Thursday and possibly into early next week before the jurors will deliberate. The Bulletin went to press Tuesday morning.

The outcome of the trial could result in substantial damages, on top of the extensive legal fees, no matter the outcome.

Whatever verdict the jury reaches, the lawsuit will continue to see more days in court.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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