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Stillwater Eminent Domain Court Hearing Postponed

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) A court hearing to determine whether Oklahoma State University can acquire the last piece of property needed for a $316 million planned athletic village was postponed Thursday after an attorney for the landowner sought to have the judge disqualified.

For months, holdout homeowner Kevin McCloskey has claimed the university had no authority to force him to sell his land because the university's governing body, the Board of Regents, has failed to abide by a long-forgotten requirement that at least five of its eight members be farmers.

The university had offered McCloskey $62,000 for his home, or about 2 1/2 times more than he paid for it. A board of court-appointed appraisers later estimated McCloskey's property to be worth $84,000.

In appointing those appraisers, District Judge Donald Worthington made a finding that the Board of Regents is constitutional and may acquire the property.

Harlan Hentges, McCloskey's attorney, said he will seek to have Worthington replaced as judge because this finding prejudices his case, which is based on the contention that the board is improperly constituted and may not acquire the property.

Hentges said his motion to replace the judge will be heard by an administrative judge.

Pending the outcome of this motion, Worthington postponed the hearing to January 4th.

The university went to court to seize the 66-year-old ranch-style house through eminent domain, or the taking of private property for public use. McCloskey bought the house in 2005, a couple of months before the university announced it would clear out the neighborhood north of Boone Pickens Stadium to expand its athletic facilities.

McCloskey filed a counter claim alleging the university is violating a 1944 state law that says farmers must have a majority on the governor-appointed Board of Regents.

``The regents do not intend to abide by the law,'' Hentges said. ``The regents intend to use the state's wealth and power to scare us and exhaust our resources.''

McCloskey lamented the legal fees he has to pay in fighting the university.

``Our attorneys are going to cost us $700 today to accomplish nothing,'' he said.

Oklahoma State University spokesman Gary Shutt said the school will continue to try to acquire the property.

``We'll keep moving down the road,'' he said. ``It doesn't change anything for us.''

Spurred on by a record $165 million gift from oilman alumnus T. Boone Pickens, the athletic village is to include an indoor practice complex, outdoor practice fields and a baseball stadium.

McCloskey and his brother, Joel McCloskey, own seven rental properties in Stillwater, including the house in question, which remains vacant, surrounded by an area that has been cleared out to make way for the first phase of the athletic village.
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