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Hingham-Aquarion Water dispute gets expedited court schedule

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  October 31, 2013 04:54 PM

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Suffolk County Superior Court officials have decided to give Hingham and Aquarion Water Co. an expedited court schedule to deal with disputes over the cost of the town’s water infrastructure.

“The town requested an expedited schedule and the court was accommodating to that,” said Kerry Ryan, litigating attorney for the town.

Under the schedule, issued Oct. 25, Hingham and Aquarion must complete their written discovery, or fact-finding, phase by Jan. 2. Non-expert witness depositions will be due March 15, and both sides will meet for a conference on March 25.

Though none of these deadlines is imminent, Ryan said much has to occur in the interim, making the timeline for the court process fairly quick.

A date for a potential trial, before either a jury or a judge, has not been set.

“It’s been our position all along that a case of this complexity deserves to go through the full discovery process, and that is what the Court has provided for with the schedule they have set forth,” said John Walsh, vice president of operations for Aquarion. “The Court has not yet set a trial date so I can’t speak to when this will be resolved, but we remain committed to providing quality water service and working with the Town on its long term planning.”

Hingham has long wanted a faster process to resolve the Aquarion dispute, and initially sought to bypass traditional court procedures and go directly to the Supreme Judicial Court.

The court denied the request, instead sending the case to the Business Litigation Session of the Superior Court of Suffolk County. Both sides said they were pleased with that ruling, which came down in late August.

The issue at hand is the price of the water infrastructure in Hingham. Though Hingham officials feel the price is closer to $60 million, Aquarion officials have said a study by Willamette and Associates, a national business valuation firm, calculated the price at $185 million.

The court will review an 1879 formula that specifies how to determine the purchase price, parsing through some of the currently disputed language.

Though a court schedule has been devised, dates only carry up to Sept. 15, 2014, when expert depositions are due.

A trial date still needs to be set. Most likely that will come during the March 25 status conference, Ryan said.

“We would probably be asking if we’re on schedule,” Ryan said.

Though a resolution still seems years away, Ryan said at any point the two sides could come together outside of court.

“The answers could occur anywhere along the path,” Ryan said. “That’s part of the reason for each of these steps. The parties exchange expert witness reports, they may decide to resolve things at that stage…all those incremental steps hopefully will assist the parties to resolve things. The only need to keep things going is because they haven’t reached a resolution.”

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