Thursday, November 6, 2014. AARON HUMES Reporting: Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin today began hearing arguments in the trial of Belizean-American Bernadette Pickwoad and the Ministry of Natural Resources over a disputed property in Belize City.
The trial had been scheduled to begin on Wednesday, but both sides applied to the Chief Justice to postpone until today in hopes of a last-minute settlement of the case.
However, according to attorney for Pickwoad, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, the arguments do not preclude possible settlement before the end of the case.
She says the Ministry needs time to work through the possible options and it is not yet time to give up hope that the case can be settled before the end of the trial.
Commissioner of Lands and Surveys Wilbert Vallejos, a witness and defendant in the case, was ill and not available to evaluate the options presented.
As for reports that her clients were offered to relocate to a different property when it would seem that the less-tenured owner should be the ones to go, Matura-Shepherd said she was not aware if any similar offer was made to the other side, as she believes should be the case to meet fair standard.
Five witnesses – Bernadette and Bernard Pickwoad, building contractor Mauricio Ortiz and Maud Williams and Marvin Castillo Jr. testified, tendering their witness statements as primary evidence and being cross-examined on these statements.
In court, the attorney for Williams and Castillo, Vanessa Retreage, pounced on an inconsistency in the statement of Bernadette Pickwoad, who manages a real estate office in the U.S. and has been living there since 2002.
She deposed that in her view the lack of development on the property was not a factor in her mind as she considered herself as owning the property despite the terms of her 30-year lease from the Government and always had kept the property cleared and property taxes paid up.
But she admitted to failing to keep up with rental payments and conceded that, under the proper procedure, Government was eligible to take the property away for failure to follow the lease conditions.
It is Pickwoad’s contention that Government did not follow that procedure, and Williams and Castillo benefited.
The retired educator and her grandson, a student at U.B., collaborated to buy the property for Williams’ own home, while Pickwoad herself says she wants to retire in Belize in the next five years.
The case resumes on November 27 with Commissioner Vallejos scheduled to testify.
Deputy Solicitor Nigel Hawke represented the Government defendants.
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