Most of the 120 additional parties named Wednesday by the city of Lodi in an ongoing pollution lawsuit aren't strangers to the case. The main difference is that, until Wednesday, they hadn't been sued by the city.
It was a move that both a defense attorney and Mayor Larry Hansen agreed should have been done years ago, after a state agency conducted an investigation into carcinogenic chemicals lurking in the soil and water.
But Aaron Bowers, who represents Odd Fellows Hall Associates and several other parties in the case, questioned the timing, considering that the city has been trying to settle the case.
"For the city to say that they want to resolve the case and then do this, in conjunction with substantial litigation dollars, it's all very curious," he said.
Last month, the City Council budgeted $2.2 million to pay for legal fees related to the case in the next six months. That doesn't include more than $25 million already spent on the case, or more fees for consultants and engineers.
The amended lawsuit could also start many legal cycles all over again, including discovery, which can be a drawn-out process, Bowers said.
Most parties named in the amended lawsuit still hadn't seen the lawsuit, but one business had already contacted Mayor Larry Hansen by Thursday morning. Whether more fallout will follow remains to be seen.
Until Wednesday, the city itself had only named 20 parties in the ongoing federal groundwater contamination suit. Most of the new ones had already been dragged into the case by other parties.
One business, Cain Electric Works, 230 N. Church St., was slightly involved in the litigation but has been working with a state agency to clean up its own contamination, said owner Ida Weber.
Weber had no idea she and the business were named in the lawsuit, and she said Thursday afternoon that she had not been served with a suit.
Bowers hadn't seen the lawsuit Thursday, but he wondered how this latest development might further hinder cleanup.
"Once again, the environment's the loser," he said.
In 2000, the city sued 15 local businesses, including the Lodi News-Sentinel, in an effort to make their insurers pay to clean up the pollution. That number was increased to 20 defendants a few months later.
Since then, the case had grown to include more than 100 parties, but the city itself had not sued more people. That changed Wednesday.
Those listed in the amended lawsuit range from businesses to deceased business owners to relatives of the deceased business owners. The list includes Fred Weybret, chairman of the News-Sentinel.
Though many have previously been involved in the case, some were named for the first time in the recent filing.
Lakewood Mall and its owners, Stone Brothers & Associates, for instance, had never been involved in the case. But they were named Wednesday because a dry cleaning company is on the property.
"Our knowledge of it is limited to what we saw in the papers this morning and we haven't been served yet," Property Manager Wade Sellers said Thursday.
Some of those listed were included in the lawsuit because they owned property at some point, even if it was only a year or two.
Others, like Ramirez Motors, are listed in the suit as a "business entity of a form presently unknown."
And, while some business owners are named along with their businesses, other business owners are not named.
Most of the reasoning behind the added parties comes from a state investigation done in 1995 and 1996 by the Northeast Research Institute. That investigation, cited by the city's attorneys in Wednesday's filing, identified 43 possible contamination sources.
"We haven't named a lot of new people. This is a preliminary look a who else may be responsible, and it's the city's responsibility to do that. This is something that should have been done before," Mayor Larry Hansen said.
Neither City Attorney Stephen Schwabauer nor attorneys with Folger, Levin & Kahn, the city's outside law firm, could be reached for comment. They were in an all-day mediation session with the city's insurance company.
Bowers also wondered why individuals were named. If the goal is to find insurers who should pay, he wondered what environmental insurance individuals could have that their business would not have.
"Are personal assets now at stake? I don't know and that's troubling," he said.
That's something that will have to be addressed on a case-by-case basis, Hansen said.
"How far we're going to go with these businesses remains to be seen," he said.
Pollution suit defendants
A listing of parties named by the city in its recent pollution filing, with the names of those parties previously sued by the city in bold: