The ongoing litigation between members of the Terre Du Lac board of directors, association members and residents, and Terre Du Lac Property Owners Association Inc., was again continued Thursday during a scheduled court hearing.
The hearing began at 9 a.m. before Associate Circuit Court Judge Timothy Inman. It was scheduled to be a hearing of evidence for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) that was filed and granted on behalf of Association Board Member Michael Tilley against board members Gary Keithley and Cary Combs, who is also the developer.
Tilley appeared with his attorney, Vonne Karraker, and Keithley and Combs appeared with their attorney, Scott Reid. The property owner’s association was represented in the hearing by attorney Mark Bishop.
Attorneys for the parties had brought several witnesses for the hearing including association members, employees, and other members of the association’s board of directors.
Prior to the hearing, on Wednesday, Karraker had filed a motion for a change of judge. The court first heard her arguments for this motion.
Karraker’s argument was that the judge had failed to file the necessary orders to keep the TRO in effect until a final hearing and that the lack of the TRO had caused issues for her client and the association. She also argued that her client, Tilley, was under the belief that the judge may be biased based on statements allegedly made by Bishop stating that he knew Judge Inman.
“It’s not unreasonable for Mr. Tilley to expect the court to extend the order,” Karraker said. “...This case is tainted.”
Tilley was called to the witness stand, by his attorney, to testify. When Tilley took the stand, Karraker asked about the nature of a conversation between the association's attorney, Bishop, and the Terre Du Lac board of directors.
Bishop objected to the question on the grounds that it violated attorney-client privileges as he was speaking to a party which he represents. Tilley was present for the conversation as an active board member and Karraker said that Bishop was apparently bragging about knowing the judge in this case. Bishop said that this was a lie.
During the testimony it was made known that Bishop belongs to the same Rotary Club as Judge Inman and whatever was said in the conversation apparently led Tilley to believe the court would not be impartial in its decision making.
Bishop stated that he and the judge do in fact belong to the same Rotary Club but have only spoken briefly one or two times.
Judge Inman also stated that he has only spoken to Bishop a few times and has heard a few cases that Bishop has handled in his Ste. Genevieve courtroom but, other than those instances, he does not know Bishop.
Karraker’s questions to Tilley, while on the stand, were attempting to clarify why he might feel that the judge was biased.
“I understand that court systems and attorney systems run in small circles,” said Tilley. “It seemed that he had some relationship with the judge.”
Karraker continued her line of questions for Tilley and several objections were made throughout the questioning by both Reid and Bishop on grounds of irrelevance and hearsay. Karraker insisted that her questions were bolstering her argument that issues had been caused by the absence of a TRO.
Tilley was asked if he felt that disruption or harm was caused by the court to which he explained that they were still able to take care of required business, like paying the bills, but that the whole nature of the case has caused disruption.
Before getting too deep into the facts of the case, the judge excluded all witnesses in the case and they were asked to exit the courtroom while the change of judge motion was being taken up.
Reid cross-examined Tilley on the stand and asked him about statements he had made in a sworn affidavit stating that, on April 29, Combs and Constance Cathcart had entered the office where financial records are kept and association employees, board members, and police officers were locked out of the room. Reid said that during a deposition, Tilley admitted that these statements were not accurate or true. Tilley replied saying that he stated the events how he understood them. Reid was questioning the reliability of Tilley's testimony.
Tammy Reeves, an association office employee, was called by Karraker to the stand to testify as to what occurred on the date that Tilley said Combs and Cathcart were at the office. Reeves was asked whether the door to the office where financial documents are stored is kept locked. Reeves stated that a lock was placed on the door after the January termination of General Manager Lori Pope and that she believed Dave Ruble was the only one with a key.
Reeves explained that, on April, 29, she was at the office the entire day. She said she was sitting at her desk working when she was told that someone would be coming in later to get the association's financial books balanced. Reeves said that Cathcart, who is an accountant, came in that afternoon and went into the office where the records are kept.
Karraker asked Reeves if anyone besides Ruble and Cathcart have been able to access the office and she said no. Karraker then asked Reeves if it was possible that someone could have tried to gain access while she was busy with her office duties and she said that it was possible. Reid then asked Reeves if she had any idea who that mystery person might be and she said that she did not know.
Judge Inman asked Reeves if she told Tilley that the door was locked that day and she replied saying that she told him the door is kept locked when Ruble isn’t there.
Next, Karraker called association resident and the petitioner of the original TRO, Herman Reiser to the stand. The attorneys for the respondents objected to Reiser taking the stand. The objection was sustained and Reiser was dismissed.
Bishop asked why the petitioners in this case had waited until the day before the hearing to file a motion for change of judge if the court’s actions have caused so many problems. He also asked why they didn't file a new petition for a TRO when the previous order had expired.
Ultimately, Bishop and Reid argued that the petitioners had not met the legal criteria to be granted the change of judge requested. Judge Inman agreed and the motion was denied.
It had seemed that the hearing was going to proceed after lunch recess until Bishop stated that since the association was added as a respondent in the TRO, on June 21, after pertinent filings had already been entered, any orders or decisions made in Thursday's hearing should not involve the Terre Du Lac Association as they were not given the appropriate amount of time to file answers to the amended petition.
Bishop said that the case was a mess and suggested that it should be dismissed. Judge Inman did not dismiss the case but rather continued it until Sept. 16 when an announcement setting will be held.
Bobby Radford is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3628, or at email@example.com.
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