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Courtwatch: Ram's Gate Sues Real Estate Attorney Involved in Purchase of Site

According to the complaint, alleged omissions forced Ram's Gate to conduct costly additional seismic work
by Kerana Todorov
July 01, 2016

A Carneros winery in Sonoma County has filed a $2 million lawsuit against a real estate attorney involved in the purchase of the site, home to the former Roche Winery.

Ram’s Gate Winery LLC alleges attorney and real estate broker Lester F. Hardy of St. Helena failed to fully disclose information on the earthquake zone when Ram’s Gate backers purchased the at the Arnold Drive property near Sonoma Raceway, according to the complaint. Joseph and Genevieve Roche, former owners of Roche Winery, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2005.

The partnership purchased the 137-acre property in 2006 for about $7 million to build the new winery, according to court records. The Ram’s Gate Winery partnership, which includes Jeffrey O’Neill of O’Neill Vintners and Distillers and a past chairman of the California Wine Institute, opened the new facility designed by award-winning architect Howard Backen in 2011.

Ram’s Gate Winery is seeking $2 million in damages and unspecified additional amounts from Hardy, according to the five-page complaint filed in Napa County Superior Court on June 10.

According to the complaint filed in Napa, Hardy’s alleged omissions forced Ram’s Gate to conduct costly additional seismic work.

“Plaintiff planned to construct improvements on the Property on the site of the existing winery and/or on the engineered building pad.” This plan was disclosed to Hardy “before he negotiated the purchase agreement,” the filing continued. “Nonetheless, Hardy failed to fully and/or properly disclose to Ram’s Gate information that had a material effect on Ram’s Gate plans,” the complaint alleges.

Sonoma County then “required Ram’s Gate to extensively trench and excavate the site to determine the nature and extent of any earthquake faults,” according to the lawsuit.

Hardy declined to comment on the case as did a Ram’s Gate Winery representative.

An attorney for Joseph Roche, Peter Simon, of Santa Rosa, this week said Ram’s Gate knew there were earthquake faults; the value of the land was not affected.

“I would be surprised if the case against Hardy is not dismissed very soon,” Simon said. Simon plans to file a malicious prosecution against Ram’s Gate on behalf of Joseph Roche, he said.

In another development, Ram’s Gate Winery earlier this year agreed to pay $600,000 to Joseph Roche in attorney fees and other costs, according to court records. Genevieve Roche died in 2012.

That ended a 2010 lawsuit Ram’s Gate filed in Sonoma County against Joseph and Genevieve Roche, Hardy and others over the Roche Winery sale. The lawsuit alleged the defendants failed to provide information on the earthquake issues before escrow closed in December 2006, according to court records.

A Sonoma County Superior Court Judge signed the $600,000 judgment in April a year after the First Appellate District Court reversed a lower court decision awarding attorney fees and cost to the Roches. The case was then remanded to Sonoma County.

In court documents, Ram’s Gate and Roche representatives stated they agreed on the stipulation in favor of Roche “rather than spend more money and time litigating over the entitlement and amount of fees and costs.”

A case management hearing in Ram’s Gate’s lawsuit filed against Hardy in Napa County Superior Court is set for Nov. 17.

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