Superior Court judge weighs decision in Island Theater case

Gives owners Friday deadline to provide action plan.

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A Superior Court judge wants answers on the Island Theater by 3 pm Friday. –MVT file photo

Superior Court Judge Cornelius Moriarty approved a stipulated preliminary order that mandates the Island Theater be made safe within three weeks of building permit issuance.

The judge did not mince his words when the issue came before him for the first time last Thursday.

“I did take time to read the papers about this case,” he told Oak Bluffs town counsel Ron Rappaport and Hall’s attorney, Kevin Cain. “It raises some serious issues of public safety.”

Oak Bluffs building inspector Mark Barbadoro and the board of selectmen are listed as plaintiffs on the order.

The order stipulates that Ben and Brian Hall, co-owners of the derelict building, “use their best efforts to expedite commencement and completion of the construction of internal wood framing … and all repairs necessary to address the unsafe conditions specifically identified by the plaintiffs within three weeks of the issuance of a building permit.”

The order also stated that the court will be given a written status report on or before Wednesday, May 24, outlining the work to be done, the identities of all contractors, and the estimated completion date.

On Friday, the town building department received test results that confirmed asbestos abatement would not be needed.

On Wednesday afternoon, Judge Moriarty received a faxed update from Mr. Cain at 3:37, minutes before deadline.

Mr. Cain wrote that the contractor engaged by the Halls had dropped out that morning.

Oak Bluffs town counsel Ron Rappaport made his displeasure clear.

“The problem is this is another case of `the dog ate my homework.’” he said. “The court asked for specifics, the name of the contractor, completion dates…We’re dealing with public safety. This doesn’t cut it.”  

Judge Moriarty was also unimpressed.

“I regret the fact that Mr. Cain is not here, perhaps he thought he didn’t have to be,” he said. “I take this matter very seriously. It seems that there is a significant issue of public safety. I’m not going to contemplate any delay. This report seems to indicate the contractor they thought they had they don’t have anymore. I want to see status report on Friday afternoon at 3 pm.” The judge also ordered that Mr. Cain be present at Friday’s proceedings.  

As of Wednesday, a building permit had been issued, but had not been picked up or paid for by the Halls.

“The town’s sole concern is public safety,” Mr. Rappaport said after last week’s ruling. “We think we have an order which will accomplish getting the theater stabilized, and also, I might add, having the front painted. That doesn’t involve public safety, but I think people will be happy about that.”

A board of survey assembled by Mr. Barbadoro officially declared the Island Theater “dangerous,” in a unanimous 3-0 vote, on Dec. 2. The vote gave Mr. Barbadoro the authority to order the building demolished, per state law. Mr. Barbadoro has told selectmen at several public meetings that the state inspector has expressed concerns that the building could collapse. “This isn’t a joke. It isn’t a spite issue,” he said on Thursday. “I’ve had the smartest engineers I could find tell me the building could collapse. The state inspector is very concerned. He wanted a timeline, and he’s got one now.”

This is not the first case involving Judge Moriarty and the Hall family. In November 2015, the judge sentenced Ben Hall Sr. to 90 days in jail for contempt after he failed to make a payment deadline in a long-running civil case. “The time for legal shenanigans is over,” he wrote in his sharply worded decision.