January 3, 2013

Judge to hear from China woman whose home is targeted for demolition

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

CHINA -- Judith Farris, the 70-year-old woman whose mobile home has been declared dangerous by town officials, will get a chance next week to tell a Superior Court judge why she should be able to stay at the Fire Road 60 property.

Judge Michaela Murphy will hear from Farris on Tuesday, following a claim by Farris that she was not notified properly about a previous hearing in November, at which town officials asked for permission to demolish her home and two outbuildings.

The town, through its attorney Alton Stevens, argues that Farris was notified properly. He said the town sent notice on Nov. 19 about the Nov. 26 hearing.

"If defendant Farris simply failed to pick up her mail until the day after the hearing, that is not the fault of the town and would be no justification to reopen the hearing," Stevens wrote in a Dec. 17 court document. "Before reopening the hearing plaintiff requests an opportunity to question defendant Farris, under oath, as to the dates she visited the post office to pick up her mail between Nov. 19, 2012, and Nov. 26, 2012."

However, a handwritten note by Murphy dated Dec. 20 indicates that she wants to give Farris a chance "to be heard on the merits of the case."

The dispute about the mobile home and two outbuildings on one of the roads that leads to China Lake began in May, when a town inspection showed trash, leaking water, black mold and holes in the floor of the home. At the time, Farris did not have running water, but said she walked to the lake and a nearby stream for water.

Farris lives in the mobile home with her two grandsons, ages 19 and 17, and her adult daughter and son-in-law live in a 10-foot-by-12-foot shed connected to the home by an electrical cord.

Becky Ratcliff, Farris' daughter, said Wednesday she's not hopeful they'll be able to stay, although much of the trash that had littered the outside of the home had been picked up recently and put into trash bags.

"Whatever happens, I'll just deal with it," she said.

Ratcliff said a neighbor has expressed interest in buying the property, but that another legal proceeding would be necessary to deal with a provision in a will that transferred partial ownership to Farris in 1998. The will gave Farris 51 percent ownership but also stipulated that neither she nor the minority owner, Stephen R. Thibodeau, could sell the property unless one of them dies.

Following the November hearing, town officials were waiting for Murphy to sign an order of condemnation that would allow them to demolish the buildings. China Code Enforcement Officer Scott Pierz said the town would take no action before the holidays, and now Tuesday's hearing delays that possibility further.

Pierz could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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