Paw Paw land case settled after nine years

Published 11:43 am Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A federal case involving two landowner groups and past and present Vicksburg and Warren County officials has settled after more than five years of claims.

Parties in the civil racketeering case brought against the county in May 2007, over access to hunting property off Mississippi 465, have reached a confidential settlement that ends the case, said attorney Ken Rector, the county’s counsel in the case.

Though terms were undisclosed, the county is not out any money as a result of the settlement, nor is any individual named in the suit lighter in the pocket, Rector said.

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“We can say there will be no money out the county’s treasury and the individuals can rest easy,” Rector said. “We’re definitely not out $6 million.”

The case, heard by U.S. District Judge David C. Bramlette, grew out of lower court cases dating to 2003 over the use of Paw Paw Road, a gravel path that leads to adjacent parcels owned by Issaquena Warren Counties Land Company and Paw Paw Island Land Company. The former group argued the county intervened in a private land dispute with the latter group in a way that violated the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a law most often used to prosecute organized crime figures.

IWCLC had asked for $1 million in damages on each of six counts on the premise that the county’s actions benefited only PPILC.

From the start, the county contended it was trying to enforce its subdivision and flood plain ordinances. The 1,275-acre tract of land is in dense woods off 465, north of Vicksburg, and was under water during last year’s historic Mississippi River flood.

Defendants were the county supervisors from the 2004-08 term — David McDonald, William Banks, Charles Selmon, Carl Flanders and Richard George — and Mayor Paul Winfield, who was the board’s attorney when the suit was filed.

The case was stayed for a time in 2009-10 as a separate suit filed in state-level courts by IWCLC over the road’s maintenance classification went to the Mississippi Supreme Court. In November 2010, the state’s high court upheld a ruling by the 9th Chancery District two years earlier that stated most of the road is private.