Virginia lawyer asks to delay slavery museum hearing - The Daily Progress: News

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Virginia lawyer asks to delay slavery museum hearing

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Posted: Friday, March 8, 2013 5:31 pm

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) — A Richmond-area attorney and House of Delegates member is asking a Fredericksburg judge to delay a hearing that could clear the way for the city to auction the National Slavery Museum property to recoup back taxes.

Attorney and Del. Joe Morrissey filed paperwork in Fredericksburg this week seeking to delay a Monday hearing in the case, the Free Lance-Star reports (http://bit.ly/W9BhZb). Attorneys for the city plan to ask a Circuit Court judge to appoint them as special commissioners for the sale of 38 acres that was gifted to the National Slavery Museum in 2002.

If the judge agrees, an auction date could be scheduled within a matter of weeks, said John Rife, one of the city's attorneys.

The National Slavery Museum owes more than $300,000 in real estate taxes to the city. The tax sale would allow the city and potentially other creditors to recoup the money they are owed.

The museum founded by former Gov. Doug Wilder filed for bankruptcy last year to stop the city from selling the land. A judge dismissed the bankruptcy case in August after lawyers said the museum had reorganized and promised an anonymous donor was prepared to pay off the city's tax bill.

That hasn't happened. But the museum could repay the overdue taxes at any time to stop the auction.

Morrissey, who asked for the delay because he just started representing the museum, argues the property's value of more than $7 million is "grossly inflated," making the tax bill higher than it should be.

Morrissey's law partner, Paul Goldman, was a longtime Wilder adviser.

Wilder, the grandson of slaves and the nation's first elected black governor, began publicly advocating for the museum a decade ago and began lining up backers and donations. By 2007, however, giving to the proposed museum began to dry up, and construction never began.

One of the museum's creditors, New York City-based Pei Partnership Architects, which designed the slavery museum and says the museum owes it more than $6 million, is objecting to the city's request to appoint a special commissioner for the sale.

The company filed a federal lawsuit in Richmond challenging the legality of a restriction placed on the property that allows the land to be used only for an African-American heritage museum or some other charitable, educational or public purpose. Pei argues the restriction shouldn't be enforceable if the property is sold.

The property is visible from Interstate 95 and is considered prime real estate. Pei argues the restriction would reduce its value by millions of dollars if it is sold at auction. A recent appraisal undertaken by the city valued it at $1.72 million due in large part to the restriction.

The company claims it would be improper to move ahead toward an auction before its lawsuit is heard in federal court.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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