Trial Will Decide OSU’s Eminent Domain Issue

Thursday, July 12th 2007, 3:17 pm
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- The fate of the final sliver of property Oklahoma State University needs to build a $316 million athletic village soon will be decided.

The July 23 trial in Payne County District Court caps nearly a year of court battles over the small, ranch-style home in Stillwater.

The university wants to seize it through eminent domain, the legal concept under which private property can be taken for public use. Depositions are being taken this week, and officials estimate the trial should last one day.

If OSU has its way, the land will be turned into outdoor practice fields, part of a sprawling athletic village that will include an indoor practice complex and a baseball stadium. Oilman alumnus T. Boone Pickens donated a record $165 million for the project.

The university insists the property hasn't been in the way of construction on the first phase of the complex.

But homeowners Kevin and Joel McCloskey will challenge the university's right to take their land, estimated last year by a panel of court-appointed commissioners to be worth $84,000, about $20,000 more than the university offered the brothers for the parcel.

"We own land and somebody is trying to take it away from us, and they've done it in a way that is reprehensible," said Harlan Hentges, the McCloskeys' attorney. "The only thing bad that could happen is if we quit standing up for our rights."

Hentges said Thursday that he expects to lose the case in Payne County but emerge victorious if it goes to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

"I don't have an expert, I don't have any surprise witnesses," Hentges said.

In April, the brothers lost a key battle in district court, when a judge ruled they could not challenge the validity of the university's Board of Regents, which initiated proceedings to acquire the home.

The McCloskeys had claimed the board was unconstitutional because it had not abided by a long-forgotten requirement that at least five of its eight members be farmers.

But attorneys for the university had long argued that questioning the validity of the regents was a non-issue in the case because its members have been appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Oklahoma Senate.

"Every reasonable effort was made to purchase this property at a fair price," said OSU spokesman Gary Shutt. "While we regret the need for it, we are confident that this is a valid use of eminent domain and look forward to a resolution of this matter."

Related Stories:

11/27/2005 Ambitious OSU Plan Rouses Anger Among Campus Neighbors

12/22/2005 OSU President Regrets Treatment Of Nearby Stillwater Residents

2/21/2006 Document Indicates OSU Planned Eminent Domain Use

7/28/2006 Regents Give OSU Authority To Use Eminent Domain For Athletic Village

10/6/2006 Ruling Delayed In OSU Eminent Domain Case

10/16/2006 Membership Of OSU Regents Under Fire Again

12/7/2006 Stillwater Eminent Domain Hearing

12/12/2006 Stillwater Eminent Domain Court Hearing Postponed

2/1/2007 Stillwater Property Owners Await Decision On Appeal

2/12/2007 Oklahoma Lawmakers Revive Eminent Domain Legislation

3/1/2007 Garden Planned At Stillwater Eminent Domain Site

4/5/2007 Brothers Lose Round In Eminent Domain Battle