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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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