A superior court judge has granted a conditional injunction against the City of Seward’s demolition efforts at the site of the historic Jesse Lee Home. Judge Lance Joanis ruled yesterday that the current restraining order against the city be replaced by a preliminary injunction if the non-profit Friends of Jesse Lee Home (FJLH) post an additional security bond of $536,720.73 by Sept. 30.
The FJLH filed the injunction earlier this month with an accompanying lawsuit disputing the city’s claim to ownership of the property. The city has claimed that the FJLH lost the property in Aug. 2019, when the organization failed to meet certain requirements under the terms of its deed. The FJLH allege that the city blocked their attempts to meet those obligations.
Judge Joanis set the considerable size of the bond to cover the city’s expenses in the event of a prolonged court battle. Mounting costs in idle crews and rented equipment are estimated to have already cost the city tens of thousands. The required bond amount is equal to half of the $1.3 million state grant awarded to the city for demolition.
Joanis stated in the order, “Half the grant amount is, essentially, a middle ground that will protect the City from significant loss, but it still exposes the City to excessive loss if the worst case scenario were to occur and the City were wrongly enjoined.”
The document also reproached both the FJLH and the city for past mistakes, “The court has to wonder why the city did not seek to quiet the title in September 2019, or any time in the year prior to starting demolition on September 1, 2020. All of this would have been avoided, regardless of whether or not the City was successful. On the other hand, why did Friends wait until the very day that demolition began to engage in urgent, injunctive court action when all along (certainly after November, 2018) the City planned to demolish Jesse Lee Home upon the Friends’ failure to perform their side of the bargain… In other words, both sides could have avoided ending up where we are now: the severe world of Injunctive Relief.”
If the FJLH cannot post bond by 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 30, the current restraining order will expire and no injunction will be granted.
Neither the City of Seward or the Friends of the Jesse Lee Home would comment on the judge's ruling.