Catahoula trial ends in settlement

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 15, 2011

VIDALIA — A trial revolving around environmental damage to land in a nearby parish that occupied the Vidalia Conference and Convention Center for two weeks ended in a sealed settlement.

According to the Catahoula Parish Judge’s office, the details of the April 5 settlement have been sealed, meaning no one, not even members of the jury for the trial, will be allowed to know the details.

Judge Glen Strong was appointed to the case by the Louisiana Supreme Court due to the magnitude of the litigation and conflicts involving the two Seventh Judicial District resident judges.

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Strong said the case was originally to be tried in court in Harrisonburg, but due to numerous reasons, the move to the convention center in Vidalia was made.

Strong said a lack of hotels in Harrisonburg was one of the reasons that prompted the switch.

“All but two of the attorneys are from out of the area,” he said. “There was no place for them to stay there, so this was a convenience for them.”

The convention center’s technology and amenities were another factor in having the trial in Vidalia, Strong said.

“There are thousands of pages of documents as evidence for this trial, and they wanted to present them all on slides,” he said. “They are using the convention center’s computers and monitors to put it up on the screen so the jury doesn’t have to go through the pages individually.”

Strong said the Harrisonburg court also did not have enough capacity in the courtroom to hold everyone and there were not enough electrical outlets for the trial.

In 2005, M J Farms purchased approximately 42,000 acres of farmland situated in southern Catahoula and northern Avoyelles Parish that was formerly a portion of Louisiana Delta Plantation.

In April 2006, M J Farms filed a suit in the parish asserting claims for environmental damage that occurred in the purchased property due to oil and gas exploration over the past 60 years.

Strong referred to the case in a press release as one of the largest cases of its kind in the U.S.

Before the trial began, a jury of 12 Catahoula Parish residents, with three alternates, was selected at the courthouse in Harrisonburg.

The jurors were provided transportation to and from Harrisonburg each day for the trial.

Due to all the added complexity of the trial, Strong thanked all those involved with the proceedings for all of their hard work and dedication with the trial proceedings.