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Thursday, December 21, 2000

Jury favors boater
in mooring complaint

By Harold Morse

A feud between a boat owner and the state over mooring fees resulted in a jury verdict that asks the state to pay a substantial amount in damages.

The Oct. 31 jury award called for William Robert Fielder to be paid $17,136.36 in ordinary damages and $300,000 in punitive damages. The case stemmed from Fielder's claim that Howard B. Gehring, Stephen Thompson and Nancy Murphy of the Department of Land and Natural Resources' boating and ocean recreation division improperly denied Fielder a mooring permit for his 39-foot sailboat in Keehi Lagoon. Fielder filed a complaint in federal court that the three defendants violated his constitutional rights.

The state has asked the court to void the verdict and grant a state motion for a new trial. A hearing will take place Jan. 2 on the motion for a new trial.

"The case is about a person who doesn't have a whole lot of physical assets in life," said Jack Schweigert, Fielder's attorney.

"Those in power in the harbor, the defendants in this case, just don't like him," Schweigert said. "The jury found that the defendants actually abused their power in going after Mr. Fielder."

That resulted in the original jury award, Schweigert said. "They were convinced that these defendants did wrong and punished them."

Dawn Chang, deputy attorney general, assisting in the new trial motion, has a different take.

"He was issued a permit as soon as he paid all of his fees," Chang said of Fielder. The earlier dispute was over whether he had paid the fees to get the mooring permit, she said. When he paid the fees, totaling less than $900, he said he was paying under protest, Chang said.

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