- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

DALLAS — A legal squabble over whether Southern Methodist University intimidated elderly condominium owners into vacating their homes so the university could present a more attractive bid for the George W. Bush Presidential Library took another twist last week as plaintiffs’ lawyers announced they wanted to subpoena first lady Laura Bush and maybe even the president.

For eight years, an SMU-owned real estate firm has been buying units in the University Gardens condo complex and last year sought the eviction of remaining tenants, resulting in a lawsuit.

“We’re looking to uncover the truth,” said Larry Friedman, attorney for plaintiffs Gary M. Vodicka and Robert Tafel. “We want to know if the decision on the Bush library has been made. No one has been willing to give us a concrete and truthful answer on that.”

SMU officials termed Mr. Friedman’s request a delaying tactic, said such a request was not legal, and predicted that the Bushes and others named would not be deposed.

“There is no legitimate need or reason for these depositions,” said John McElhaney, the lead lawyer representing SMU. “We view suggestions like this as attempts at harassment.”

Mrs. Bush is a graduate of SMU and a member of its board of trustees.

District Court Judge Jay Patterson did not rule Wednesday on the plaintiffs’ motion.

There has been bitter debate for almost a year since Mr. Vodicka, an SMU Law School graduate, sued the university, claiming that it bought the 347-unit condo property with a definite plan to include it — after the buildings were razed — as an integral step toward amassing enough space to make a serious bid on the $300 million Bush library.

SMU points to the fact that it began buying units of the University Gardens complex in 1998 through a real estate corporation that it created for that purpose, Peruna Properties. At that time, Mr. Bush was still governor of Texas.

The university sued the condo association over a bylaw that prevented any owner from owning more than 10 percent of the units. That bylaw eventually was removed amicably, and in 2002, Peruna became the majority owner.

Last June, the condo association declared the property obsolete. The bylaws said then that if 75 percent of the ownership agreed that it was obsolete, then the buildings could be razed. The SMU-formed company owned 93 percent of the units by then.

Tenants were notified June 6, 2005, that they had 60 days to move.

Mr. Vodicka, who owned four units at University Gardens, filed suit last August, charging that SMU used fraud and intimidation to get owners to sell at low prices. Many, he said, had lived there most of their lives, were elderly and had difficulty relocating. Among those, he said, were his mother, aunt and uncle.

As the sales were completed last fall and early this year, SMU paid off all the owners, including Mr. Vodicka. He has refused to accept his check for $450,000 for his four units. He lives in one of the remaining units and claims that the school’s actions invalidated the sale.

SMU, considered the favorite to be awarded the Bush library later this year, claims that it has done nothing wrong.

“At the eleventh hour, they want to stop us — at a time when the property has been completely conveyed to SMU,” Mr. McElhaney said. He described the plaintiffs’ latest plan to get depositions from the president and Mrs. Bush as “an unfocused delaying tactic, which is entirely improper.”

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