Magistrate reverses would-be Beaufort filmmaker's eviction notice

cconley@islandpacket.comJuly 24, 2013 

An aspiring filmmaker will be allowed to remain in her St. Helena Island residence after a Beaufort County magistrate decided Wednesday that his court is not the place to settle eviction proceedings.

Magistrate Joseph Kline ruled that the rent-to-own agreement between Barbara Terry and the Fess family of Beaufort amounted to a sales contract, which is outside of his court's jurisdiction.

The Magistrate Court can hear landlord-tenant disputes, but real estate contracts and similar cases must be heard in Circuit Court, Kline said. His ruling reverses an eviction notice issued July 12 after Terry failed to attend a hearing on the matter.

"The judge ruled correctly," said Terry's attorney, Kenny Tootle. "As far as we are concerned, this is over."

Terry, who says she will begin filming a $7.2 million movie called "Route 65 Nashville" in Beaufort next month, moved into the home at 123 Sea Pines Drive on St. Helena last June. She was to live there and pay rent each month until the Aug. 15 closing date, according to testimony.

David Fess, who owns the property with his wife, filed the eviction notice because he believes Terry cannot afford the $875,000 sales price they agreed to last year. The Fesses, both of whom are teachers, want her out so they can move back in.

Fess also said Terry has repeatedly been late making her monthly "occupancy fee" and bounced several checks in the past year. He acknowledged that Terry is current on her rent, recently paying through July.

Fess said the family has not decided whether it will continue to puruse a legal case against Terry after Kline's ruling.

Records from the Texas Department of Public Safety show Terry, who also goes by Barbara Liffingwell, has been accused of passing bad checks before. In 1993, she pleaded guilty to a 1988 misdemeanor offense of theft by check of more than $20 but less than $200. She was forced to pay restitution and sentenced to 12 months probation, according to Texas records. In 2000, she pleaded guilty to felony theft by check of property of greater than $1,500 and less than $20,000. She was sentenced to two years of probation and fined $200, records show.

On Tuesday, after a news conference at the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce to discuss her plans to make two films in the area, Terry said these two check incidents stemmed from a dispute with a partner in a flower business she once owned. Her Fort Worth-based attorney in those cases, Jerry Loftin, said any bounced check can result in criminal charges under Texas law.

After Wednesday's hearing, Fess said Terry also made unapproved alterations to his waterfront home and rented out the garage apartment without his knowledge. Fess said he was cited by county code enforcement officers because of the garage rental and fined $250.

The tenant of the garage apartment confronted Terry in the courtroom over her security deposit, which she said Terry promised to return.

The tenant, who said she would not reveal her name because she owns a business in Beaufort and did not want further trouble, said she is plans to move out of the garage apartment this weekend. She had moved in March 1 after signing a one-year lease and was paying Terry $800 a month.

Terry declined to answer accusations about the bounced checks or the garage rental.

Meanwhile, with shooting on the $7.2 million "Nashville" film set to begin next month, there is evidence some details remain unresolved.

Randy James, the manager for actor Corbin Bernsen -- who Terry said has been cast in the movie -- said his client's presence in the film is not guaranteed. Money that was supposed to arrive in escrow to guarantee the former "Major League" and "L.A. Law" star's appearance hasn't shown up yet.

"He is attached (to 'Route 65 Nashville') in the sense that they made us an offer, and he agreed to do it," James said. "By putting money into escrow, they are essentially taking him off the market, which they have, as of now, not done."

James is pursuing other projects for Bernsen that could interfere with the "Nashville" movie, he said.

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.

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