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Judge warns attorneys in zoning case to “come prepared” to trial


Fri, Nov 7th, 2003
Posted in Features

Judge Robert Benson

Judge Robert Benson on Tuesday, presiding at a pre-trial hearing in the civil case between Fillmore County versus Eli and Matti Sla-baugh, chastised lawyers from both sides to “come prepared” when the case goes to trial on December 10 in Chatfield.

Fillmore County is suing the Slabaughs to prevent them from occupying a house they built off of County Road #23 near Canton. Eli Slabaugh built the house, despite being turned down for a building permit by Zoning Administrator Norm Craig. Craig had ruled that the house site was too close to a nearby rock quarry and did not comply with Fillmore County Zoning setback requirements.

In February 2003, Judge Benson denied a summary judgement filed by Fillmore County stating that “there was a genuine issue of fact in the case and goes to the issue of whether or not the defendant (Eli Slabaugh) was denied equal protection.”

Benson’s comments came after he had asked the two lawyers in the case if things had been resolved or whether they were prepared to proceed to trial. Acting Fillmore County Attorney Pat Oman told Benson that the matter had not been resolved, saying that there remain two unresolved issues. The first is estoppel, where the plaintiff contends that they were told by the Zoning Office that the site was good to build on. The second issue has to do with the plaintiffs wanting the zoning ordinance vacated because they believe it is being applied in an arbitrary and capricious manner.

Benson then asked whether the two sides had tried mediation.

Oman replied that he “didn’t notice” that mediation was called for.

Jeffrey Schiek, attorney for Slabaugh, told the court that he was “open to mediation and that his client was willing to push back the trial date.”

Benson replied, “I am not inclined to push back the trial because the two of you have ignored that part of the scheduling. The case was heard in January and it is now November.”

Benson then asked Oman who he intended to call as witnesses.

Oman said that he would call Eli and Amos Slabaugh and Mr. Norman (sic), referring to Zoning Administrator Norm Craig, but was unsure beyond that.

Schiek told Benson that he had only learned last Thursday about the hearing.

Benson replied, “That’s surprising since your office was notified on March 10, 2003 about the pre-trial hearing.”

Schiek said that he intended to call an expert witness that could testify about the exact location of the quarry in relation to the Slabaugh house.

Benson gave both attorneys until the end of business on Friday, November 7, to give to the court their Witness List and Exhibit List.

“There appears to have been a minimum of preparation on this file on either side. If we are going to have justice in this case you are going to have to come prepared,” a clearly disappointed Benson told Oman and Schiek.

The pre-trail hearing lasted about 15 minutes.

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