The plaintiff, Sharon Anderson, had asked that the the pitch be disassembled and removed.
In her lawsuit she also sought $97,000 for reimbursement of attorney's fees. The attorney's fees for her legal team from Atlanta's firm of Nall and Miller amounted to $80,000.
Anderson's attorneys were Laura Eschelman and Brian Mohs. City attorney Robert Stultz represented Fort Oglethorpe. Superior Court judge Ralph Van Pelt presided over the trial, held Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 10-11.
The jury of seven men and five women said in their decision that the city had constructed the pitch and that, in doing so, violated its city charter, which states there can be no new construction or obstruction built on the historic grounds.
The pitch was constructed in November 2007, with notice being given to the city in the following month that it had violated its amended charter, passed in 1974 and later ratified by the state in 1996.
The amendment, passed when Anderson's father was on the city council, was meant to protect the rest of the Polo Field.
According to testimony given, private citizens went to several council meetings to discuss the matter. The council never voted on the measure regarding the cricket pitch, which was installed at the request of Harry Patel.
Testimony during the trial showed there was only one instance of cricket being played on the site since 2008.
During the trial, city manager Ron Goulart said the city had constructed the pitch which, according to defense attorney Mohs, was an admission that the city had indeed violated its own charter.
During closing arguments, Stultz told jury members they should read the entire city charter and understand how broad the powers of the city are.
Attorney Eschelman told the jury that an original drawing showed that the pitch was to have been built behind the library, not on the Polo Field. Section 7.14 of the city charter states, “There shall be no future construction or obstruction on the Polo Grounds.”
She went on to say that Stultz and Goulart had engaged in “classic fear mongering” by telling people that if the cricket pitch had to go, then so did the ball fields and other items.
Eschelman told the jury that Anderson did not stand to make a dime on this case. She only wanted the pitch deconstructed and removed, as well as her attorneys paid for their work.
The attorneys fees could be paid if the jury found that the defense had been stubbornly litigious, especially if they found the defense to be patently frivolous. It had been brought out that the city had not responded to several letters from plaintiffs, thus forcing the trial and subsequent fees.
Eschelman went on to say, “If you find for the city and Ron Goulart, they can do whatever they want (to th Polo Ffield) — build parking lots, put up basketball courts, and so on, and a piece of our history is gone forever.”
“Sharon Anderson doesn't stand to gain a dollar. She only wants the government to follow the law.”
“This is an important case,” she concluded. “If you let the city get away with this, then what's next?”
After the verdict was announced following less than two hours of deliberation, Anderson said, “It makes me really, really happy. Happy that the jury realizes that this is an important area and that it will now be protected for some time to come.”
Asked what swayed the jury’s opinion during deliberation, jury foreman Ken Crane said, “It was basically looking at the definition and the intent and spirit of the city charter.”
Crane said the jury reviewed all the clauses and exceptions, along with the list of limitations as to what the city could do.
Goulart said the city was disappointed in the outcome but that would be filing a motion on appeal and asking for a new trial in the matter. “We'll be going back. We have too much invested at this point,” he said.
“I have $150,000 on-hold for future improvements regarding construction at the Sixth Cavalry Museum building. This verdict leaves me a little worried as we look to making the building handicap-accessible and installing an elevator and restrooms.
“I know it's been talked about doing these things inside the building, but realistically they may have to be outside construction. We're a little worried about that.”