02-14-2013, 03:36 PM
Meanwhile, at SilverStar Enterprises, Milton Dewey had arrived at Monique Wesley's office, beaming like the midday sun.
"I said I'd come through for you, didn't I?" Milton crowed. "I got just what you need to take over that property."
"So?" Monique said impatiently, "what is it?"
Milton laid down his paperwork on the desk in front of Monique. "Twenty-five years ago, GM-Cadillac took over half of Hamtramck, Michigan to build their plant," he told her, "and the state supreme court upheld it!"
"What's that got to do with us?" Monique asked.
"Don't you get it? They claimed public use under the eminent domain laws, just like we're doing!" Milton said. "If they can do it, then there's no stopping us. We just stick to our guns, and we can't fail! That whole area is a slum--you said so yourself! This case justifies it!"
"Okay, Milt," Monique said, satisfied for the moment,"we'll play that card when we have to. Just be there in the courtroom, ready to fight this thing out."
"Oh, don't worry, Monique," Milton said, smiling his oily smile. "I will be loaded for bear on this one."
The day came, and both parties with legal counsel on their sides were present in the courtroom. So were the media: cameras flashed as each of the major players in the six-week-old drama waked through the glass doors of the Clark County District Courthouse. Monique Wesley was dressed in her "power suit", a black businesslike ensemble equivilent to a man's three-piece suit only without the tie. Milton Dewey was also suited up in black, with a diamond pin on his black silk tie.
Their opponents, represented by Father Stefan, Dimitra Sarantakos, and the founding members of COST, were also conservatively dressed. Father Stefan insisted on wearing a full cassock to court, in keeping with the dignity of the church as he put it. Dimitra simply wore her best blue dress, her black hair pinned up in a small bouffant. Her Armani sunglasses protected her eyes from the flashbulbs.
Of all the members of the parties involved, it was Criss himself who drew the most media attention. He had toned down his punkish look for a conservative (for him) black shirt and slacks with only a single cross around his neck. He fielded the reporters' questions while his mother slipped into the courtroom undisturbed. It was almost time for the trial to begin when he finally broke free from the feeding frenzy of the media with the help of the Clark County Sheriff's Department. Criss finally entered the courtroom and sat down next to his mother nearest the bench.
"Are you all right, honey?" Dimitra asked her son.
"I'm fine, Ma," Criss replied. "I'm used to it."
"All rise!" the bailiff intoned. "This court is now in session."
Everyone in the courtroom stood up while the judge ascended to the bench. The command for everyone to be seated was given, and the trial began. "The Citizens of North Las Vegas vs. SilverStar Enterprises," the judge read from the docket. "Is the counsel for the plaintiffs ready to make the opening statement?"
"I am, Your Honor," Edward Bradwin, the attorney for the plaintiffs, replied courteously as he rose from his chair. "On November **, 20**, SilverStar Enterprises announced the construction of the Grand Imperial Hotel, Resort and Casino on a twelve square mile site in North Las Vegas--a site that is still populated, with homes, businesses, schools and churches. The defendents offered buyouts to the residents and business owners, ranging from five hundred to ten thousand dollars to evacuate the area for demolition. When they refused, the plaintiffs were served eviction notices, giving them thirty days to leave their homes, businesses, churches, and schools. The plaintiffs claimed 'eminent domain', under the Fifth Amendment regarding public use for private property.
"Now, in the strictest sense, the Fifth Amendment can claim property for public use such as freeways and other uses. For a private corporation to sieze private property to build a luxury hotel in a city full of luxury hotels is downright criminal. These are people's homes we are talking about, ladies and gentlemen, their places of business, their houses of worship, the schools where they send their children. The age of the robber baron has long ended. Let's put people in front of profits."
The plaintiff's side rested. Now it was the counsel for the defense's turn to make an opening statement. Milton Dewey rose from his seat and faced the court with typical bravado. "Ladies and gentlemen," he bellowed pompously. "My client, SilverStar Enterprises, is not the 'robber baron' my opponent makes it out to be. SilverStar always had the public in mind when launching this project. The area in dispute is a rotting slum, full of gangs and drug dealers. The only 'business' going on over there is the illicit kind. By building the Grand Imperial, SilverStar intends to not only cut down on crime, but to provide gainful employment, and to raise the property values as well. They don't intend to throw anyone out in the street--God forbid!--but to give them the means to start a better life. They offered money for their shabby, rotting dwellings, those ruins they call their 'businesses'. By demolishing those crumbling, filthy slums, SilverStar is making North Las Vegas a better place to live, to work! People should be thanking SilverStar, not persecuting them!"
Criss sat slumped in his seat, listening to Dewey's claptrap, his stomach barrelrolling inside him. That's the biggest load of BS I ever heard in my life! he said to himself. If Monique Wesley thinks she's doing everyone a favor by tearing down people's homes, she's deluding herself!
Dewey eventually stopped blathering and sat down again. The first witness to take the stand was Monique Wesley, CEO of SilverStar Enterprises. Criss tuned out immediatly--he knew she would reiterate what Dewey had said in his opening statement, and then some, and her testamony proved he was right. Only when Bradwin approached the stand did he take interest.
"Ms. Wesley," Bradwin began. "What gives you the right to take over people's private property to build your hotel?"
"I claim it under the eminent domain laws of this state," she answered.
"Did you read those 'eminent domain' laws carefully enough?"
"I did. I followed all legal procedures to evacuate the area."
"You followed all 'legal procedures'?"
"Well, Ms. Wesley, it seems to me that you did follow all legal procedures except one," Bradwin said, "concerning the fact that you had to be the legal owner of the area in dispute before you could issue eviction notices. Do you have legal title to any part of that area? Do you have documentary proof of ownership?"
"I claim the right under the Fifth Amendment, which states that no private property can be taken for public use without just compensation. I offered compensation to everyone concerned."
"Five hundred dollars is hardly 'just compensation', Ms. Wesley." Bradwin responded. "And you didn't 'offer' it, you forced it upon them. And 'public use' does not mean building a luxury hotel, Ms. Wesley. Your corporation is not the US Government."
After more arguing, Monique was dismissed. Father Stefan Mykolos was called to the stand. Being a clergyman, he could not swear on the Bible to tell the truth, but simply affimed to do so. Once seated, Mr. Bradwin asked him to relate in his own words what happened during the month of November when he got the notice to give up his church. Father related everything he could remember--the letter offering ten thousand dollars for the church and property, the eviction notice, the protest movement resulting in his and Dimitra's arrest, and the injunction filed against SilverStar. Then, it was Dewey's turn to cross-examine the priest.
"Father Mykolos," Dewey began, "is it true that you and Mrs. Sarantakos was arrested for criminal trespass on private property?"
"That 'private property' was my church!" Father argued. "And Mrs. Sarantakos had my permission to be on it, just like all my other parishioners. We were both aquitted for lack of evidence."
"But SilverStar had claim onto it under the eminent domain law."
"God Himself has eminent domain over His Church and no one else!" Father shot back, to great applause.
The judge gaveled for order. Milton Dewey continued. "Father Mykolos, if you insist on claiming that property as your own, I suggest you look furthur in the law books. Are you familiar with Poletown vs. GM-Cadillac?"
"I am not an attorney, counselor," Father reminded him. "I uphold God's law only."
Dewey turned pompously to the court in general. "Ladies and gentlemen, GM-Cadillac built their plant in Hamtramck, Michgan twenty five years ago under the same eminent domain laws we now dispute. The plaintiffs appealed, but the State Supreme Court upheld GM's claim. Yes, some houses and churches were torn down, but it was all for the best in the end. The area prospered for years after that. Could we not do the same for North Las Vegas?"
"I do remember that case," Father spoke up. "And that plant 'prospered' for only a few years until it closed down! It was a waste of money and resources, not to mention the destruction of several churches and over a thousand homes! The state sold them out, counselor, and I am not going to stand by and watch my community be sold out like Hamtramck!"
Loud applause erupted in the courtroom at Father's brave speech. Again the gavel came down to restore order. Dimitra beamed at Father Stefan on the stand. How brave he is! His faith alone could win over any legal precedent in the world! she thought.
The trial dragged on, with SilverStar losing ground with every passing hour. The Poletown case was dragged forward again and again, only to be shot down in flames. Monique kept insisting that she had every legal right to take over North Las Vegas, while witness after witness defended home and business there. Criss found himself praying for the end of this whole thing just so he could go back home and get some work done.
Finally, the closing statements were made, to Criss's relief, then the court was recessed for thirty minutes for deliberation. Everyone rose and filed out of the courtroom, the judge to his chambers, everyone else to find a place to eat. In the crowd, Criss found himself face to face with Monique. "I wish you were a man for about five minutes," he said to her.
Monique looked at Criss almost seductivly. "Why?" she purred. "You prefer men?"
"No," Criss replied, "so that I could punch your lights out for what you did to my mother, having her arrested like that! Not to mention the BS about you being all civic minded in tearing down an entire neighborhood to build your hotel! You're not doing this for the community, you're doing it for your own ego! You're nothing but a self-centered, greedy (bleep), you know that? I'm still coming after you for having Mom arrested. I'll sue your ass for whatever you got left after this suit!"
"How do you know you're going to win?" Monique asked smugly.
"Oh, we'll win, all right," Criss retorted. "And let me warn you, Ms. CEO, that if, God forbid, we lose this round, I'll fight you all the way to the (bleeping) Supreme Court if I have to! And I fight to win, no matter what it takes!"
"Well, so do I, Mr. Hotshot Magician," Monique shot back. "So do I."