Originally created 06/18/97

Atlanta Gas Light to ask court to void Trinity judgment



Atlanta Gas Light Co., citing a state law governing arbitration, will ask a Superior Court judge to void a $3 million award to an Augusta church on grounds the court-appointed umpire overstepped his authority.

"You can clearly see he overstepped his authority," company spokesman Ross Willis said of the award issued Monday by umpire Percy Blount.

The award was issued under an out-of-court settlement to a lawsuit filed by the church alleging its property was devalued by toxic coal tar from a defunct gas factory.

Mr. Blount awarded damages for replacement and relocation costs, as well as historic value for the 154-year-old sanctuary.

Mr. Willis said the appeal will be made to Barrow County Judge Penn McWhorter and will invoke the Georgia Arbitration Act.

But Duncan Wheale, Trinity's lawyer, said appeals invoking that law require criteria that are absent from the situation.

The only grounds for an appeal, based on the law, are "corruption, fraud, misconduct in procuring the award, partiality of the umpire or an overstepping by the umpire of his authority," Mr. Wheale said.

"They asked, in November, to settle the case. We agreed to the settlement terms and they prepared a settlement agreement that we agreed to," he said. "They even suggested as an umpire Mr. Percy Blount as someone they thought who would be totally fair and impartial, and we agreed with that suggestion."

But Mr. Willis said the provision involving overstepping of an umpire's authority would be the grounds of the appeal.

"The umpire just didn't do what he was supposed to do."

During hearings before Mr. Blount, which were closed to the public at Atlanta Gas Light's request, church officials asked for $5.13 million. Atlanta Gas witnesses valued the site at $420,000.