Residents of Persimmon Park Place must sit down with a court-appointed mediator to solve their problems before pursuing any further litigation against its condominium council, a Delaware Chancery Court judge ordered Friday.
Persimmon Park Place is a planned community east of Del. Route 1 and the Dover International Speedway. It is run by a governing council of five persons, elected by property owners in the development.
Chancery Court, which has been in existence since 1792, is empowered to resolve disagreements between corporations and other business entities.
Three Persimmon Park Place property owners, Martha Hanvey, Della P. Morton and Frederick Tolbert, sued the council, alleging "egregious mismanagement" of the subdivision over the past three years.
Friday's hearing was to determine if the case against the council should be dismissed or allowed to continue.
Among other charges, the plaintiffs accused the council of failing to fully account for community finances, opening community facilities to the general public and disposing of property without proper authority.
Hanvey, Morton and Tolbert represented themselves at the Oct. 11 hearing, but were backed by at least eight other Persimmon Park Place residents in the courtroom.
The council was represented by its president, Susan Krs, and Lewes attorney John F. Brady. Brady also serves as clerk of the peace for Sussex County.
In his opening remarks, Brady immediately moved for dismissal, citing several administrative flaws in the case documentation, a move Vice Chancellor John W. Noble denied.
The case is complicated by the fact the three-year terms of the governing council have expired and new elections have not been held because no qualified candidates emerged to run for office.
Noble also turned down Brady's suggestion he order an election, saying that issue was beyond the scope of the hearing.
Noble did, however, take up Brady's idea the case be turned over to a court-appointed mediator to try to resolve the disagreements without additional court action.
Tolbert initially resisted the idea, but changed his mind after Hanvey and Morton agreed.
"Sometimes fighting an action is not the best way to do things," Noble said.
"Sometimes mediation is better," he said, adding that the two parties often can find an agreement they can live with, "better than a judge."
Under court rules, a Master in Chancery will review the dispute between the Persimmon Park council and the community residents. If successful, that action will effectively end the case.
If unsuccessful, the litigation will go forward in Chancery Court.