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Summary judgment is sought in lawsuit

Defendants want apartment-protest case thrown out on

free-speech grounds

By Lewis Griswold
The Fresno Bee, September 29, 1999

More than two years after a developer sued 12 northwest

Fresno residents for publicly opposing his proposed apartment
complex, the residents are hoping to win the case on free-speech

U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger listened Monday as lawyers

argued for his summary judgment in favor of the residents, but he
gave no indication which way he leans or when he'll issue a

Clovis developer Peter Herzog sued the residents, the city of

Fresno and five council members -- including Chris Mathys, who
represents the district.

The lawsuit, by Affordable Housing Development Company

and Ashwood Construction, seeks $ 27 million.

Opposition grew because 20% of the planned 324-unit

apartment complex named Wellington Place was to be rented to
residents with wages between $ 16,000 and $ 24,000 a year.
Five council members voted against it -- Mathys, Garry
Bredefeld, Henry Perea, Sal Quintero and Dan Ronquillo.

Resident Travis Compton, who served on a citizens advisory

group that reviews proposed developments in northwest Fresno,
is represented by lawyer Nicholas Hentoff of the Center for
Individual Rights, a public-interest firm based in Washington, D.C.
Hentoff, the son of Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff, said his
law firm decided to take the Fresno case because "there are very
important First Amendment issues here."

"He (Herzog) is using the courts to punish somebody just

because they exercised their First Amendment rights," Hentoff
argued. "They want to silence the opposition."
Herzog's lawyer, William Davis of Irvine, said the residents
are being sued because they signed agreements when they
bought their homes to not challenge the planned apartments.

Those who opposed the low-income project violated federal

laws against housing discrimination, Davis said.

The action in federal court Monday involved only the residents

being sued. The city's motion for summary judgment will be
heard Oct. 25.

Last revised: January 7, 2009

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