Historic Town Wins Lawsuit; Preservation Now May Continue in Chinese Delta Town

–For Immediate Release—

Locke, CA — The management association responsible for the maintenance and historical preservation of the Delta town of Locke, California, has won a nearly five- year lawsuit over resident Martha Esch and co-defendant Dona LeBlanc, and will be able to reclaim a historic building in the town for preservation purposes. The Lock Historic District, where the property at issue stands, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990.

On February 19, 2016, the Locke Management Association (LMA) prevailed on summary judgment after being forced to sue and endure five years of litigation to protect its right of first refusal. The suit resulted when Esch bought the historical building at issue from LeBlanc without giving the LMA first right of refusal as required in their bylaws and covenants, conditions, and restrictions.

Chinese workers who were responsible for developing the farmland founded Locke in 1915. The town they established is the only standing rural Chinese town in the United States built exclusively by Chinese people for themselves at the time established. Thousands of visitors come annually to step back in time and walk through a town that looks much like it did 100 years ago.

The judge’s ruling frees the townspeople to continue preserving Locke as an important historic landmark and enables the LMA to buy back the building, which in the peak of Locke’s heyday, was a gambling hall. The years of lawsuits and counter lawsuits have drained the LMA’s pockets and energy. Meanwhile Esch has occupied the building and operated an art gallery on the premises.

“After five years, it’s nice to exhale and get back to the work we’ve been waiting to do all this time,” said Russell Ooms, president of the LMA. “The suits cost the town $100,000 — money that could have been spent on upkeep and preservation.” Members of the LMA board, a governmental body set up by the County of Sacramento in 2003, receive no compensation for their long hours of work.

The court ruling states that, without the LMA’s knowledge, the defendants began negotiations for the building around mid-January of 2011, with LeBlanc as the prospective seller of the property. Shortly thereafter Esch signed a formal offer to purchase it. The agreement contained an all cash offer for $21,000, the price Esch paid LeBlanc. But “the contract contained no contingency for the LMA to consider its right of first refusal,” the court ruling said. Defendant Esch was aware of the LMA

right of first refusal “for some time” prior to closing escrow, and admitted to actually reading them prior to closing escrow.

In February of 2011, counsel for LeBlanc notified the LMA too late in the process of the sale. The LMA did vote to exercise its right of first refusal and notified interested parties who had a right to purchase the property, as required in its bylaws and the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions. The lists for notification include former Chinese residents, their descendants and ascendants as well as other interested parties added to the list. The court document shows that Esch, in attendance at that meeting, closed on the sale two weeks later, “with personal knowledge of the LMA’s rights of first refusal….” The judge found that Esch had exercised “willful disregard.”

In public and in the press, Esch has questioned the authenticity of Locke as a Chinese-founded town and belittled the importance of much beloved Chinese elder Connie King, one of the last longtime inhabitants. “Connie King, would be thrilled that Ms. Esch has been put into her rightful place with Sacramento Superior Court Judge David I. Brown’s words,” said resident James Motlow. Motlow spent years recording the last Chinese residents on camera. “The judge said, (The evidence) ‘is insufficient to establish that Esch acted legally or ethically.’ The Locke Management Association has acted legally and ethically and is working everyday to preserve everything that Connie King fought for,” Motlow said.

The ruling said Esch must now let the LMA have the building on the same terms as her initial real estate purchase of $21,000.

Note to Editors: We are happy to provide more information on this lawsuit — elaborate on what impact the Locke Management Association’s success has on the town of Locke and its people, or answer any other questions. Please contact: Gregory P. Wayland, Esq.

gpwayland@bpelaw.com

916-966-2260

The Locke Management Association is a California non-profit mutual benefit corporation. Its purpose as stated in its bylaws is to improve the well-being of Locke, preserve the town’s cultural and historical integrity, and manage the town. Its board members include representatives from government and other agencies and groups, and town building owners, both Chinese and non-Chinese. No board members are compensated.

5 thoughts on “Historic Town Wins Lawsuit; Preservation Now May Continue in Chinese Delta Town

  1. Congratulations to the town of Locke for winning it’s recent court case. The town, after a six year litany of contentious legal games, has finally taken ownership of its rightful historic property. The Locke Management Association now plans to restore the building, as best as possible, back to the historic appearance and orientation it once had before Martha Esch made drastic and non-historic changes. PLEASE SHARE.
    Photo: James Motlow

    BPE LAW GROUP WINS BIG IN THE THIRD DISTRICT COURT OF APPEAL FOR THE HISTORIC TOWN OF LOCKE
    By BPE Law Group Attorneys Robert J. Enos
    and Gregory P. Wayland

    On July 13, 2017, the California State Third District Court of Appeal granted the Town of Locke’s Motion to Dismiss the Appeal of Appellant Martha Esch. The Court of Appeal ruling potentially ends a six-year legal battle over who is the rightful owner of an historically significant building in the heart of this small river front community. At stake in this hard-won case was ownership of 1265 Levee Road, Walnut Grove (Locke), California. As some of our readers know, the Town of Locke is historic for being the only town in the United States created for Chinese immigrant workers who came to America to build infrastructure, like the transcontinental railroad.

    The case began in 2011, when BPE Law Group was retained by the Locke Management Association (LMA) to enforce a right of first refusal it owned under the community’s CC&Rs and Bylaws. Under the right of first refusal, if anyone in the community of Locke wanted to sell any piece of property, the LMA had the right to purchase at the same price. In this instance, the LMA had decide at one of their noticed monthly meetings that they wanted to buy the Levee Road property. Even though Appellant Esch was at the meeting and was fully aware of the vote to approve the LMA’s purchase, Appellant Esch proceeded immediately thereafter to buy the Levee Road property in violation of the vote and the rights of the LMA.

    In the litigation which proceeded, BPE Law succeeded at every hearing yet Esch persisted on filing further claims and appealing decisions. Following the successful ruling on LMA’s Motion for Summary Judgment in early 2016, Defendant Esch filed an appeal in the Third District Court of Appeal. Initially, the appeal delayed the transfer of ownership of the Property from Esch to the LMA. But thanks to continued efforts BPE Law Group was able to force the transfer of the Levee Property in compliance with the court’s ruling and as part of that compliance, LMA deposited $21,000 with the Court as its purchase funds for the Property.

    As an example of how Appellant Esch continued raising legal challenges, even though the $21,000 was being held pending the decision on Esch’s Appeal, she wanted the purchase money now without waiting for the Appeal. Strategically, at BPE Law’s recommendation, LMA allowed Esch to have the funds now and then BPE filed a Motion in the Third District Court to dismiss Esch’s Appeal on the grounds that she waived her right to the appeal by accepting these funds, the logic being that it is unfair to criticize a court ruling while at the same time accepting the very benefits that ruling provides. Esch tried to claim that the money had nothing to do with her Appeal. LMA disagreed stating that it was clear that the funds clearly and unmistakably came from the Locke Management Association (LMA) in exchange for Property (1265 Levee Road, Locke California) in compliance with the Summary Judgment. On July 13th, the Court of Appeals agreed with BPE Law and LMA and Granted LMA’s Motion to Dismiss Esch’s Appeal.
    The foregoing merely highlights key points in what has been a very contentious six year legal battle that, hopefully, will now be complete. Through it all, the experienced attorneys at BPE Law collaboratively addressed each legal challenge successfully and completely achieving the important goals of LMA and holding true to promises made historically to preserve and protect the Town of Locke and honor and remember the Chinese workers who lived here and contributed so much to make California great.

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