Jackson County

Not a jury of Shedheads: Court finds 12 who can be impartial

jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

It’s about money. And Jackson County Court selected a jury Monday morning to decide just how much money the land is worth around The Shed Barbecue & Blues Joint north of Interstate 10.

The eatery that has risen in popularity since the early 2000s burned in February 2012. Six months later, the state started a court case to take a 100-foot strip of property in front of the restaurant to widen Mississippi 57.

The argument in county court this week will be between the owners of The Shed, brother-and-sister team Brad Orrison and Brooke Lewis, and the Mississippi Department of Transportation over what that strip is worth.

Orrison and Lewis say it’s worth in excess of $1 million, and MDOT says considerably less — about 1/10 of that — especially since the restaurant itself was built without proper permits and has no certificate of occupancy.

Stopher Haug and eminent domain specialist Paul Scott of Hernando are representing the restaurant. Veteran eminent domain attorney Gary White is counsel for MDOT.

Courthouse observers wondered Monday if it might be hard to empanel an impartial jury since the restaurant, which has been recognized nationally, does fundraisers, has fed first responders and supports local causes. It even gave away food to county residents on its last anniversary.

But jurors leaving the selection process said they weren’t grilled on whether they liked The Shed’s food or favored the outgoing couple that owns it. They said they were quizzed on how impartial they could be.

Long-time eminent domain attorney Scott Cumbest stopped to watch at one point.

He said such cases can be complex. What he has found: “When the government is taking land, juries love to hate the government, but what they hate most is a greedy landowner.”

The biggest issues argued Monday morning without the jury:

▪ How to set a value on a restaurant building that doesn’t meet the county building code. One contractor came up with a system by which he calculated the cost of building The Shed — a loose collection of rooms that look tacked together — as if it met the code. Then he backed out the value of the things it was missing — electrical work, air conditioning and heating, concrete foundation and plumbing. He estimated the cost to build it legally should be reduced by $25 a square foot.

▪ The state argued there’s no way to compare the building to other restaurants that comply with the law.

MDOT’s White said they may as well compare it to a casino, it would be as appropriate.

But The Shed’s Scott argued that should be left to the jury’s discretion. Comparable is an issue of what a person would pay for it, Scott said.

The judge agreed The Shed has value even though it doesn’t meet the code, “we just don’t know what value.”

▪ Haug argued that the value should be decided on what The Shed was worth on the date the court case started, August 2012. By that time it was rebuilt from a major fire, using temporary permits from the county, some of them designed to allow the business to function with a mobile food truck.

▪ Scott and Haug said they will show the county did issue some permits for the restaurant. What was missing, Haug said, were any citations or reprimands by the county or “allegations of anything improper.”

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