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Elks Lodge to Be Auctioned Friday

Hartford —The Hartford Elks Lodge is headed toward a foreclosure auction this week, the latest development in a long-running legal battle involving a 2005 gender discrimination ruling.

Richard Daniels, a trustee of the Elks Club who holds a mortgage on the building that houses the lodge, issued a foreclosure notice this month stating the two parcels owned by the Elks Club along Route 14 would be put up for public auction.

Daniels initially sought a foreclosure auction for the property in January 2009, but an appeal that sent the matter to the Vermont Supreme Court before it was remanded to the lower court slowed the process.

“It just never went away,” said Daniels’ lawyer, Nicholas Burke, of Burke & Hotchkiss in Lebanon. “It’s just been a long process.”

A Windsor Superior Court ruling in May showed Daniels is owed about $1.1 million, which includes the principal and interest on the mortgage as well as tax payments and interest.

Burke said his client is foreclosing on the property “because the mortgage notes due to him haven’t been paid ... the Elks haven’t been making payments to keep the note current.

“It’s a business decision,” he said, adding that Daniels hopes to recoup some of the accumulated debts.

The long standing legal battle dates back to a discrimination case when four plaintiffs said they were denied membership in the Hartford lodge because of their gender.

The Elks Club lost a 2005 trial and were ordered to pay the women $7,401 in punitive and compensatory damages, and $7,200 to the Vermont Human Rights Commission, which had also sued the Elks, in statutory penalties, according to court documents.

The Elks later appealed the verdict but that appeal was denied in 2008.

Elks members meet at the lodge on Route 14, which has a bar and function hall.

On Wednesday afternoon, the hall remained dimly lit and only faint voices could be heard from the entryway.

Burlington attorney Ted Hobson, the women’s attorney, said although the move to foreclose on the property is a legal proceeding, it could be looked at as a move by Daniels to protect the Elks’ meeting space.

The building and accompanying parking lot sit on 1.6 acres and are assessed at $612,000. Town officials said property taxes are current. Court documents show Daniels paid more than $82,000 in property taxes and interest.

“No one is going to pay $1 million for it,” Hobson said in a phone interview Thursday, pointing to the assessed value.

Burke, Daniels’ lawyer, said whether the property sells at auction later this week is dependent on the bids. He said Daniels has a “substantial investment” in the property now and will wait to see what kind of bids are entered.

The question of whether the women and lawyers, who have yet to be paid from the discrimination case, would receive any money also depends on the bids.

“If a successful bidder pays enough that Mr. Daniels is made whole as the first lien holder then any surplus would go down (the line)” and pay the others, he said, adding if the property isn’t sold “he (Daniels) would be the bidder and end up with the property and decide what he wants to do with it.”

Hobson said that as a result of a state Supreme Court ruling in the case, if the sale doesn’t garner enough money to pay the women what they are owed, as well as legal expenses, certain members of the Elks Club could be liable for the payments because the lodge wasn’t incorporated when the discrimination took place.

Hobson said he thinks the Elks Club “are doing just fine” financially from the money generated from its bar and lottery-like “break open” ticket sales.

Attorney Norman Watts, who represented the Elks Club during the discrimination case but later obtained a judgment against the club for nonpayment of attorney’s fees, agreed.

“The lodge, it’s not poverty stricken, it’s quite rich,” Watts said.

“It doesn’t do banking, everything is in cash,” he added.

Watts said the number of Elks Club members has been dwindling since the case and has dropped down to just a few hundred members from more than a thousand.

Messages left for Richard Blodgett, the lodge’s exalted ruler, were not returned.

The public auction will take place on Friday, at 11 a.m. at the lodge on the corner of Main and Elk streets in Hartford Village.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.