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The U.S. Court of Federal Claims earlier this month awarded more than $34 million to former Kentucky landowners in a case against the U.S. government that goes back to World War II. Nancie Marzulla, the Washington lawyer who represented the claimants, says the case has been a “long, long haul.” She’s not kidding: It started more than 60 years ago, when the government acquired nearly 36,000 acres of Kentucky farmland from hundreds of families to build Camp Breckinridge, the World War II training facility. The government paid only for the surface rights to the land, but after the war ended, it profited from selling or leasing coal, gas, oil, and other mineral rights discovered on the farms. The Kentucky families sought the help of Congress in 1968 to get compensation for the millions of dollars made from their properties. Twenty-five years later, Congress sent the matter to the Court of Federal Claims, where settlement negotiations and discovery disputes jammed it for more than a decade. It was transferred to Judge Susan Braden in 2003. That, says Marzulla, managing partner of Marzulla Law, is when things began to pick up. Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor mediated settlement discussions last year, which failed. Marzulla says that O’Connor is a friend of Braden’s. (White House counsel Fred Fielding was originally tapped to mediate, but was recruited by the administration before the negotiations.) The matter will ultimately be sent back to Congress, which will decide how to appropriate the award. In her decision, Braden says the claimants are owed at least $34.3 million in restitution, but notes that Congress should consider that the government’s total benefit from the land was more than $126 million.
Marisa McQuilken can be contacted at [email protected].

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