Voters on July 17 rejected a deal that would have ended a multi-year lawsuit over maintenance of an abandoned road in hopes that winning outright would block future challenges. One of the plaintiffs also doubled down, saying said she has no plans to drop the suit.

Thirty-eight voters attended the special town meeting at Liberty Community Center. After debate from both sides, residents rejected the settlement deal in a secret ballot vote, 23 to 15.

The lawsuit brought against the town by Debra, Adam and George Paul in 2015 concerns a portion of Bolin Hill Road, a 1.5-mile residential dead end that connects to Route 3 near Lake St. George. Town officials assert that the section of road is abandoned. Members of the Paul family, who own properties there, say it was never abandoned, only poorly maintained.

The deal considered by residents July 17 came as a result of mediation. The town would have paid the Pauls $6,000 to drop their complaint and have the road declared abandoned. Town Attorney Bill Kelly strongly recommended this avenue, both to put the case to rest and to take advantage of a definite result.

"The definite result is, the road would be determined by the court to be abandoned," Kelly said. "It costs a lot less than a fight. And if you can do it now instead of in two or three years, I recommend that."

Some residents, including Road Commissioner Tammy Reynolds, argued against the settlement, saying it would open the door for other residents to shake down the town for money.

"I looked it up and we have 11 other roads in this town where people could sue us," Reynolds said. "Is that what we're going to do, just give them money? We set out with $40,000 to fight this case. We fought it. (The town attorney) said it, we will win it. We have 15 people to go to court, very trustworthy people, and I think we should set a precedent. I don't think we should cash out."

Kelly urged against chasing a precedent. The town would never be able to stop people from suing, he said, and in his own experience as counsel to 20 municipalities, he hadn't seen a case like this before and doubted there would be a flood of copycat cases.

Duane Jewett, who lives on an abandoned road, refuted that idea, saying he would consider trying to recoup some of the $40,000 he has put into his own road if the town paid off the Pauls.

"I bought my property feeling it was an abandoned road," he said. "I have to maintain it. I did it. I live with it. I'd be kind of ticked to think, jeez, all I had to do was spend 10 or 15 thousand dollars, take it to county court and make a settlement."

Kelly also noted the proposed settlement with the Pauls was $6,000, so the math wouldn't be on the side of future plaintiffs.

Plaintiff Debra Paul said the $6,000 settlement would cover 60 percent of the one-time repairs needed to get the road to a point where she could sell her house and leave Liberty behind.

Paul lived in Liberty for 10 years but moved to Bristol, she said, after receiving anonymous threats from Liberty residents angered by the lawsuit. She told residents that she tried to avoid litigation but was blown off by town officials and ultimately became the subject of gossip and innuendo around town.

"The bottom line is that this is a negative sum game for all involved," she said. "Believe me, I would have done anything, anything at all, to avoid filing this lawsuit, but felt that it was the only avenue left to settle this dispute … this has nothing to do with money. I've already lost."

Liberty has spent between $12,000 and $15,000 on the case to date. When asked how the town should protect itself from future lawsuits, Kelly cautioned against being too proactive, which he likened to picking fights.

Instead, he suggested town officials document the work, or lack thereof, to questionable roads, and publicly reinforce the status of those roads at town meetings.

"Time, or the passage of time as the town continues to not maintain these roads, is your friend," he said. "So, sit tight."

Speaking after the vote, Paul said she was disappointed not to be done with the matter but vowed to continue the suit on principle and said she has the documentation to win.

"If I knew what it was going to involve when I started, I wouldn't have done it," she said.