Case ends after 26 years

July 15, 2009
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After more than a quarter century, a judge out in Montana finally ruled on a dispute over the ownership of natural gas leases.

It didn’t take 26 years for a resolution in the case because of countless appeals or court delays.

It was because the judge misplaced the file.

According to a few news sources and blogs about this case, retired District Judge Ronald McPhillips presided over Ayers v. Rubow in the early 1980s and apparently recently found the file in an old briefcase at home.

The judge retired after the case was submitted because of health reasons, which is the suspected reason for the extreme delay.

In a case that Ayers argued was potentially worth millions of dollars, how do you let a quarter century pass before the case is finally ruled on?

The attorney for Ayers said he finally gave up on it because he felt it was going nowhere. Judge McPhillips came out of retirement to make the ruling and decided Ayers didn’t prove his case.

If I filed a lawsuit in which I may be entitled to millions of dollars, you bet I’m going to stick with it, call the clerk’s office, my attorney, and anyone else I could to make sure it was moving through the system.

How did this not come to the judge’s attention sooner or any of the judges who took Judge McPhillips’ place in District Court? Why didn’t Ayers or the defendant file any grievances or seek help looking into the matter?

This is a pretty extreme delay in a case getting resolved, but these kinds of things happen in many courts. The misplacement of a file in a Marion County court was one of the reasons a Marion Superior judge was suspended without pay earlier this year. The missing file was in the case of a man wrongly convicted of rape.

Lessons to learn from this case: Keep better track of your case files and take meticulous notes. Judge McPhillips did, which allowed him to rule on the case after the Montana Supreme Court allowed him to do so. Also, follow up with the court and your attorney so you don’t have to wait 26 years for a resolution on your suit.

There’s no word on whether Ayers plans to appeal the ruling.
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  • What likely happened, in my estimation, is that the case settled out of court and nobody bothered to file a stipulation of dismissal. Hence, no parties to the litigation cared that no ruling was handed down, since they had already settled. If no stipulation of dismissal is filed with the court, court staff is unlikely to notice that the file is missing.

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  1. Oh, the name calling was not name calling, it was merely social commentary making this point, which is on the minds of many, as an aside to the article's focus: https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100111082327AAmlmMa Or, if you prefer a local angle, I give you exhibit A in that analysis of viva la difference: http://fox59.com/2015/03/16/moed-appears-on-house-floor-says-hes-not-resigning/

  2. Too many attorneys take their position as a license to intimidate and threaten non attorneys in person and by mail. Did find it ironic that a reader moved to comment twice on this article could not complete a paragraph without resorting to insulting name calling (rethuglican) as a substitute for reasoned discussion. Some people will never get the point this action should have made.

  3. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  4. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  5. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

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