Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Judgment Goes Against Foster County in Favor of Ted Keller and Leo Straley

Commissioners Meeting: March 18th, 2008
Justice prevailed today, January 28, 2009, in the Foster County Courtroom for Ted Keller and Leo Straley. Presiding Judge Greenwood granted their summary judgment against Foster County. He ordered that Foster County should provide them with copies of the 346 letters that Commissioner Carr said that he had from the community in support of the Van Bedaf mega-dairy locating near Carrington.

In March, 2008, when the Carrington community was debating the issue of allowing the Van Bedaf mega-dairy to locate so near Carrington, Commissioner Carr stated that he had 346 personal letters from businesses and members of the community in support of the dairy being established here. He used his supposed possession of these letters to sway the other commissioners to vote in favor of accepting the Van Bedaf application for a permit to operate 2 1/2 miles from town. Nearby established families and farms, as well as many Carrington residents, were worried about the smell and health hazards of a 20 million gallon manure lagoon being so close to them.

Interestingly enough, when Ted Keller and Leo Straley asked to see the 346 letters, the County refused access to them... even though they were part of a public record used to influence the other commissioners and the community. Foster County had already been sanctioned by the Attorney General of North Dakota for not providing public information in a timely manner, so as a last resort, Keller and Straley decided to sue the County in order to get access to the letters.

It has taken the plaintiffs eight months to get information that should have been provided to them immediately. Because of the refusal and delay in producing the 346 letters, Keller, Straley and others have begun to question whether or not they truly exist. Or, if the letters do exist, are they well-writtten, well-thought-out letters like the ones which were written in opposition to the location of the mega-dairy. Or, as someone suggested, are they simply a form letter that customers signed when they bought gas/supplies from Commissioner Carr.

When Ted Keller and Leo Straley receive the letters from Foster County, they have agreed to publish them on CarringtonNews.Com so the community can see the number and quality. Judge Greenwood also ordered Foster County to reimburse the plaintiffs for the filing fee which they had to provide in order to sue the County.

Another court date was set for March 17th in order to hear a complaint that the Foster County Commissioners met in an unlawful, unannounced session to decide issues regarding the Van Bedaf mega-dairy.


  1. It looks like the county should give Mr. Murphy a big raise for his goood legal advise. I think it is sad that someone with no law degree kicks butt on our wondewrful and underpaid count hired legal consel

  2. Recently, a fellow citizen of Foster County and I were forced to take the Foster County Commissioners to court to obtain public records. (KELLER v. FOSTER COUNTY COMMISSION, Case Number: 16-8-C-65)

    Why did we have to go to court to get what we had a right to all along? Is it because present Foster County Commissioners feel that the law only needs to be obeyed when it is convenient to them?

    The Commissioners of this county fail to understand that their oath of office requires that they make at least a minimal effort to obey the law, and their ignorance of those laws is not an excuse to continually break those laws. As well, their failure to understand the laws they continually break cannot be excused because of bad legal advice from their counsel, States Attorney Paul Murphy.

    It is sad that these office holders are willing to waste the financial resources of the tax payers of this county on attorneys to defend their repetitive lawlessness. I wonder what it will take to cause our county commissioners to make the slightest effort to even understand the laws they violate?

  3. Like I said the tax payers of Foster Co. should give Paul Murphy a big fat raise. Does he have time to advise the count commissioners when he is so busy letting off drunk drivers and drug users, lets not forget the meth makers it takes alot of time to to let these fine peaple off!!!

  4. Why don't the voter of Foster Co. recall Mr. Murphy? Check out the new web site RECALL

  5. I just checked out and found that there is no such web site. It's available to buy, though, if anyone is interested in developing it.

  6. Another member of the public and I recently filed a lawsuit against Foster County Commissioners for their open and notorious violation of North Dakota open records laws. This case came before Judge Greenwood who found in our favor that the Foster County Commissioners had indeed violated the open record laws of the State of North Dakota. This was the second time that the county commissioners had violated these laws in less than a year. Their previous violation was the subject of the North Dakota Attorney General’s Opinion 2008-O-19 issued in July, 2008.

    The reason that my fellow citizen and I took this case to court was to create some semblance of accountability by these elected officials. North Dakota open records law calls for minimal damages where the violation of the government is knowing and intentional.

    This lawsuit was not brought against Foster County for the actions of some ill-informed clerk working in some minor capacity for the County of Foster. This suit was filed against four elected officials that had taken oaths to obey the laws of the State of North Dakota. The North Dakota statutes regarding open records are an important part of those laws. Unfortunately, our case came before a judge who believed, in this case, that ignorance of the law is the ultimate excuse.

    Foster County, prior to mounting their frivolous defense in this lawsuit, had the legal assistance of two North Dakota State licensed attorneys, one of whom is States Attorney Paul Murphy. Even though the judge found in our favor and that their defense contained no merit, he refused to find that Foster County’s actions were knowing and intentional, even after we pointed out their previous violation of the same law within the last year.

    By Judge Greenwood’s finding that they were simply ignorant in the law, it precluded any damages for our side. Our hope was that a monetary sanction against the commissioners would make them stop breaking the law. Instead, apparently, elected officials can simply claim ignorance of the law in Judge Greenwood’s court and escape all damages.

    How Judge Greenwood could determine that elected officials’ ignorance of the law created a defense is beyond me. It has always been my understanding that ignorance of the law has never been a defense for either criminal or civil damages. I guess it just shows you how ignorant I am about the law in Judge Greenwood’s court.

  7. Interestingly enough, the reporter from the local Independent reported that Keller and Straley LOST the above case! Someone at the court hearing overheard her saying that she didn't understand what was going on. Somebody else said - "Ask Paul, he'll tell you." So does that mean that the state's attorney told her that Foster County won?

  8. Someone recently asked for a list of the people who supposedly wrote a letter to Jimmy Carr, in support of a mega-dairy moving close to Carrington. (I've copied the reply below.)

    "When Commissioner Carr and Foster County were forced to provide copies of the "346 letters in support of a dairy" to Keller and Straley, it turned out that there were actually only two letters. One letter was from Tom Erdmann. The other letter was one which had been photocopied over and over again with signatures from county residents, out-of-county residents, some under-age residents, and several signed by the same person again and again. Several of the photocopied letters had a short personal note added. Sad to say, Commissioner Carr had given the public a completely different impression of the letters when he used them to overide the Planning and Zoning Committee's recommendation that the Van Bedaf dairy should not be able to locate so close to Carrington.

    From what I understand, some people who signed the photocopied letter do not wish to have their names published online, so I'm not going to print their names here. However, if you wish to see the signed letters, there are copies at the Foster County Courthouse. I think, after being sued to release them to the public, they will provide access to them without any problem.

    There are also many well-written letters from Carrington citizens and business owners who recommended that the dairy not be allowed to locate so close to Carrington and our water aquifer. They had definite cause to be concerned about the location, since the lagoon system was patterned after the Thief River Falls dairy which the Minnesota State Health Department closed down due to its unhealthy effects on their community."