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Hearing Set for Lee County Lawsuit

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A hearing will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 20 to determine where a lawsuit filed against several members of the Lee County Board of Supervisors will be heard.

District Court Judge Mary Ann Brown said the proper venue must be determined before any other portion of the lawsuit can proceed.

She said, in her order setting the date for the hearing, that the court didn't have the information needed to make such a decision without hearing oral arguments.
 

LAWSUIT

The lawsuit against Board Chairman Ron Fedler, Supervisor Rick Larkin, and now former Supervisor Ernie Schiller was filed in south Lee County in mid-September.

A group of seven Lee County residents accused the trio of violating Iowa's Open Meetings Act by holding secret meetings about a plan to select Fort Madison as the lone county seat.

Fedler, Larkin and Schiller have argued that the lawsuit should be heard in North Lee County because that is closer to their personal residences and because it is the home of county government.

HEARING

That is where the situation becomes difficult for the court system.

Brown said Iowa's Open Meetings Act stipulates that litigation brought against a governmental body must be brought in the county considered to be the governmental body's principal place of business.

"This lawsuit has not been brought against a governmental body," contends Brown in her order.  "As it is captioned, it has been brought against three individual people."

Brown said there is also no mention in the lawsuit of where the secret meetings were allegedly held.

"Since this action is brought against the defendants as individuals, not against the governing body, there needs to be some allegation as to where the cause, or some part thereof, arose in order for the court to determine proper venue."

Brown said once the venue is determined, the court will be able to decide if a jury trial is appropriate and if an additional claim of a secret meeting will be allowed to be added to the lawsuit.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.