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Jury selection to start in Hermon demolition lawsuit

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CANTON — A lawsuit against St. Lawrence County that has been more than a decade in the making is scheduled to begin jury selection today before state Supreme Court Justice David R. Demarest.

Daniel L. Colon, a former Hermon resident now living in Warren County, said Friday that he is seeking $1.25 million after a building he owned at 100-B Main St., Hermon, was extensively damaged in 1999 by county workers demolishing an adjoining building at 100-A Main St. that shared a wall.

Mr. Colon was arrested while trying to block the demolition.

“It’s been 14 years, and I feel that the county has used the color of their authority to put this off as long as they could,” Mr. Colon said.

County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire was not in her office Friday and unavailable to comment.

The suit, originally filed in 2000, names as defendants the county, former Deputy Highway Superintendent Karl O. Bender, the county Sheriff’s Department and former Sheriff Keith K. Knowlton.

Mr. Bender resigned in 2009. Mr. Knowlton retired in 1999 and died in 2002.

The suit was brought by Mr. Colon and his then-wife, Catherine A. Colon. The couple later divorced, and Mrs. Colon died in 2007.

Mr. Colon climbed onto the roof joining the two buildings in an effort to halt work on May 14, 1999. He climbed down after an hourlong standoff and was arrested by St. Lawrence County sheriff’s deputies on charges of trespassing and obstructing governmental administration.

The charges were dismissed in December 1999 at the recommendation of the district attorney’s office.

The suit also alleges Mr. Knowlton overstepped his authority as sheriff by directing deputies to take Mr. Colon for a psychiatric evaluation following his arrest.

The Colons had planned to open a restaurant in their building. Trouble arose when the county, which acquired the adjoining building because of unpaid property taxes, elected to demolish rather than renovate the structure after work crews noticed cracked walls and missing bricks as they started repairs, county officials said at the time. Both buildings were nearly 125 years old.

Although the county denied damaging the shared wall, county crews, supervised by Mr. Bender, repaired, sealed and painted the wall later that year. The suit alleges the work was not adequate and the Colons’ building remained “in an unsafe, unusable and unmarketable condition.”

As for the long-suffering lawsuit, all hands seem to have played a role in its slow progress.

“The delays in this case have, from time to time, been attributable to each side,” Judge Demarest wrote on July 6, 2009.

Then, last year, the court added to those delays. An October 2011 order set a trial date for the following September, but that didn’t happen.

“I must try another case on Sept. 10, 2012, and the lack of courtroom space and backup judges results in this adjournment,” the judge wrote nine months ago.

The trial then was rescheduled to begin Monday.

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