Snarky former prosecutor no match for plan commission

A former prosecuting attorney who denied the truckloads of dirt dumped on his Boone County farm caused drainage problems got buried under a $519,400 fine.  

The dispute began when the Boone County Plan Commission filed a complaint against Robert Blackford and his estranged wife. Alleging Blackford violated the zoning and drainage ordinances, the plan commission asserted he was storing a significant amount of dirt, concrete and debris on his property which was affecting drainage and creating the potential for off-site erosion and sedimentation.

Blackford filed a contempt-filled answer to the complaint.

“OH MY GOD!!!! (The plan commission’s executive director) found a significant amount of dirt on my farm! I admit it. There is a large amount of dirt on my property,” he wrote.

Blackford dismissed the allegations that the dirt and other materials were causing water to back up. Also, he stated that any Stop Work Order was void for lack of authority and admitted that he had ignored the previous correspondence from the plan commission.

Next, he filed a counterclaim, alleging the plan commission committed perjury in its complaint.

The plan commission’s assertion that he violated the drainage ordinance “is simply untrue on its face,” Blackford wrote. “It is unlikely anyone with a level of intelligence above that of (a) moron could conclude my activities on my property have affected drainage.”

In his counterclaim, Blackford also stated, “I am a former prosecutor.” However, he is not listed on the Indiana Roll of Attorneys.

The plan commission then moved to amend its complaint to include the drainage board. It argued the drainage board was an indispensible party because of the alleged violation of the county’s stormwater management ordinance.

Four days after the deadline to respond, Blackford filed a pro se Opposition to Plaintiff’s Motion to Amend Complaint. He maintained the amended complaint did not identify a single person as a plaintiff which the defendant could depose.

“Is the Court going to entertain a Notice of Deposition of Boone County Drainage Board? Who’s going to show up?” Blackford wrote. “… Is it possible that next week plaintiff’s attorney will move the court to add the FBI, the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security to the list of plaintiffs? Who am I dealing with here?”

Nine days later, the Boone Superior Court held a bench trial on the plan commission’s claim and Blackford’s counterclaim. Immediately, Blackford asked for a continuance, stating he had been short notice of the trial and was seeking counsel. He asserted the amended complaint had made the situation “way more complex.”  

The trial court denied the oral request. It questioned his need for more time for research, noting he had addressed the issues in his response to the plan commission’s motion to amend. Moreover, the court did not agree that the amended complaint made the matter more complex since alleged violation of the drainage ordinance was in the original complaint.

The bench trial proceeded and Blackford cross-examined Boone County’s witnesses and presented his own witnesses. At the conclusion, the trial court found Blackford had violated the county’s drainage ordinance and was subject to a $519,400 fine plus $156 for court costs and $8,715 for attorney fees.

Blackford appealed. He argued, in part, the trial court abused its discretion by denying his continuance request. Blackford claimed he wanted to delay the trial so he could hire an attorney and the trial court’s denial violated his due process rights.

Boone County argued Blackford knew of the drainage ordinance violation allegations and did have time to prepare a defense, request a continuance or hire counsel before the trial.

The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with Boone County that the trial court did not violate Blackford’s right to due process. It concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in Robert Blackford v. Boone County Area Plan Commission and Boone County Drainage Board, 06A01-1410-MI-437.

Looking at the Boone County dispute, the Court of Appeals noted Blackford had been an attorney, was representing himself and had filed various pleadings in this case. He had received notice of the order granting the plan commission’s motion to amend its complaint. Yet, Blackford waited until the trial to make an oral request for a continuance, claiming he had just become aware of the drainage ordinance violation.  

In addition, Blackford acknowledged to the trial court that the nature of the amended complaint was not different from the original since both contained the allegation he violated the drainage ordinance.

The Court of Appeals pointed out Blackford’s continuance request was not supported by any evidence or showing of good cause as required by Indiana Trial Rule 53.5. Also, he did not articulate any good cause for the continuance or show that he would be prejudiced.

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