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Stay issued on data in Walmart suits

A city resident and her former attorney will not have to turn over financial documents today related to their legal battles with Walmart, a State Supreme Court judge ruled Tuesday.

Appellate Division Justice Salvatore R. Martoche granted Catherine A. Kern and David J. Seeger a temporary stay of the order to provide information about the financing of their lawsuits against Walmart.

Frank T. Housh, Kern's attorney, told The Buffalo News on Tuesday his client is seeking a permanent stay until her appeal of the earlier State Supreme Court ruling can be heard.

A full panel of appellate division justices is scheduled to take up the request for a permanent stay April 11.

Kern and North Tonawanda First, a now-disbanded organization of which she had been president, sued four times in state court over a proposed Walmart Supercenter.

In October, Kern and others filed a lawsuit in federal court against the project, proposed in 2006 at the former Melody Fair and Bluebird Bus garage sites near Niagara Falls Boulevard and Erie Avenue.

The City of North Tonawanda and Walmart recently won their initial push to discover the source of financial backing for the lawsuits.

In a ruling written March 2, State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello III ordered Kern and Seeger to turn over documents and appear April 4 for court-supervised depositions.

Boniello found Kern and Seeger in contempt of court for failing to provide the information by the initial Dec. 1 deadline.

The city and Walmart also are seeking reimbursement for attorneys' fees and other costs.

Housh said his client faces serious sanctions if she is ordered to cover the other parties' legal fees and believes what Boniello ordered "is completely unprecedented."

"There is no precedent for what Justice Boniello did, which is find a citizen in contempt for what is related to a basic discovery dispute," Housh said.

Shawn P. Nickerson, city attorney in North Tonawanda, said he considers Boniello's order entirely appropriate.

"The city's position is that the judge was well within his bounds," Nickerson said.

e-mail: abesecker@buffnews.com

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