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301 West Freemason St.
Norfolk, VA 23510
Phone: 757.622.5812
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NRHA's face-saving piles up legal bills

The Virginian-Pilot
March 21, 2007
By Editorial

If the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority understood the maxim about throwing good money after bad, then it never would have tried to condemn Downtown Used Auto Parts in the first place. Many people thought the case was a loser from the start, politically, if not financially, but few imagined the toll would be so high.

The 2003 seizure was propelled by a duplicitous motive - economic development masquerading as blight removal. It was not a coincidence that the salvage yard was targeted only after the Coca-Cola bottling plant next door threatened to leave town, taking its payroll and tax revenues with it, unless City Hall could find a way to help it expand.

The city chose refreshment over repairs, and was more than happy to see the salvage yard go. Even though the NRHA lost in court two years ago, it continues to fight, with little hope of gain except for the lawyers. The salvage yard property is safe from seizure, and the legal issues have all been settled.

Yet NRHA is keeping the case alive to save face at taxpayers' expense. The legal bills now vastly exceed $400,000, what NRHA said the industrial property initially was worth.

Legal fees now are heading for $700,000, with the last half-million coming since the losing verdict in the Norfolk Circuit Court. Because it lost, NRHA now has the burden under the law of paying the owner's lawyers, too. That totals nearly $292,000 in hourly billings, according to Norfolk Circuit Judge John Morrison. So the legal meters of the NRHA and the salvage yard are running at full speed.

Last week, NRHA could have surrendered to the obvious, paid up and stopped the hemorrhage of its bank account and public standing. But no: NRHA chose instead to double-down by starting a new round of filings, motions and arguments contesting the bill.

This is based on the dubious premise that the owner of the salvage yard does not owe his attorney, the law firm of Waldo & Lyle, any money for warding off the NRHA in a dispute now in its fourth year.

Waldo & Lyle is the chief nemesis of NRHA, so the appeal has taken on the character of a grudge match.

NRHA has had its day in court and lost, fair and square.

By needlessly prolonging the agony, NRHA is saying that it doesn't play by those rules. Come to think of it, that's the reason the agency is in so much trouble to begin with.