Contested Aquinnah ‘Lot 240’ continues in court

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Tanisha Gomes (standing, left) and Curtis Troy Small (standing, right) representing themselves and the other descendants of Louisa Pocknett at a Dukes County Superior Court earlier in May. The battle for ownership rights to Aquinnah Lot 240 may continue in land court — Abigail Rosen

The battle for ownership rights to Aquinnah ‘Lot 240’ may continue in land court after out-of-court mediation proves unsuccessful. The ongoing case is to establish deed rights through conveyance documents stemming from Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) member Louisa Pocknett of Gay Head, who was granted the 5.7-acre parcel four years after her death in 1874.

The Vineyard Conservation Society claims ownership through donation by the Kennedy family, according to a chain of title that the descendants of Pocknett say is fraudulent.

At a status hearing in Superior Court on Friday, through representing attorney John Willis, the VCS said they had served a motion to transfer the case regarding rights to ‘Lot 240’ to land court with the option of filing it, dependent upon suggestions by the court. Willis stated that VCS and the defendants — descendants of Louisa Pocknett — “do not have any current plans to mediate.”

“It just seemed to me, looking at the papers, that this was a case that did offer a lot of opportunities for negotiating a resolution because there’s so many different interests at play,” said Judge Karen Goodwin. 

Willis told Goodwin that he attempted mediation previously,  but “at this point, given the years of settlement discussions, the parties are just too far apart,” to come to an agreement. This followed Judge Goodwin’s April 22 decision allowing two weeks following the summary judgment hearing for both parties to try to reach an out-of-court agreement via mediation. 

Defendant Tanisha Gomes, who has taken much of the responsibility of representing the group of descendants as a whole, called Willis’ statement “disingenuous,” adding “for him to say he tried to negotiate is not a true statement.” Gomes said she and her family asked Willis to mediate before the status hearing, and were met with resistance by VCS. 

Goodwin once again reiterated her advocacy for continued efforts to mediate from the summary judgment on April 22, but said, “There seem to be, even from the plaintiff’s perspective, issues of fact. The plaintiff [VCS] has set forth a couple different paths to title, as well as a couple different theories as to how much land the conservation commission actually has.”

Goodwin asked Willis to confirm her recollection: that the VCS title expert “has a different path to title than the one you talk about in your memorandum.”

Willis stated that VCS has had two title experts work on the case, and the two reports are in the process of being combined. 

“It’s not a clear summary judgment case,” Goodwin said, adding that the summary judgment will be held in abeyance until June 6 — ”by which any motion to move to land court must be filed.”

In the event that neither party files a motion to transfer the case to land court, and VCS summary judgment is denied, the case will continue at a status conference on July 20.

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