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A district court judge gave attorneys for the Winona public school district and Save Our Schools 30 days to write their own orders granting or denying summary judgment for a slander-of-title lawsuit the district filed in December.

The suit itself takes issue with a notice of pending litigation filed nearly a year ago by Save Our Schools, which had earlier appealed at the state level the school district’s decision to close Rollingstone and Madison elementaries. Three court of appeals judges ruled in favor of the district in May, after which SOS removed the notice from the titles of both buildings.

But school district attorney Joseph Langel alleges the notice was improperly filed at the start and interfered with the district’s ability to present the buyers with a clean title. Attorney Michael Bernatz, who represents plaintiff Rollingstone MC Properties, which joined onto the suit after its filing, said his client could not sell the school as fast as he sought to because of the notice.

Judge Matthew Opat on Wednesday gave both attorneys until June 17 to submit their arguments for or against summary judgment — which lets Opat make a decision without holding a full trial — and submit it to the court.

Summary judgment requires that there is no dispute on material facts of the case, which for slander of title consists of the following:

  • A false statement concerning the real property owned by the plaintiff
  • The false statement was published to others
  • The false statement was published maliciously
  • The publication of the false statement caused the plaintiff loss in the form of special damages

“The goal from the beginning for (SOS) was to disrupt or prevent the sale of property,” Langel said Wednesday.

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He said the notice of lis pendens was a false statement because the filing party must have a property interest in the real estate, not just a general one — an argument SOS attorney Lucas Thompson disputed.

Attorneys also clashed over the malice element. Langel said the two letters he sent the group demanding they remove the notice that did not produce any result were further proof of malicious intent, while Thompson argued his clients had simply acted in good faith, doing what they thought was responsible to make the buildings’ buyers aware of the open appeal.

“This lawsuit is completely unnecessary,” Thompson said, noting that the district nor Rollingstone MC Properties owns either building any longer.

Of issue for Opat was the means of collecting payment for damages, since Save Our Schools is an unincorporated association with little collective property.

Langel said should the court rule in the district’s favor, he could identify SOS members and seek compensation from them individually. Those damages, the district says, are in the form of legal fees WAPS has incurred during the court battle.

After each party submits their order and memorandum detailing why they believe the material facts of the case are or are not in dispute, Opat will have 90 days to review the motion — extending the matter into the 2019-20 school year.

If summary judgment is denied, the case will go before a jury trial.

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(3) comments

Ricky

Can you imagine if this type of effort was put into building a new school? I don't understand this town.

Hive

Who pays for all this waste of time?

RiverHawk

The taxpayers pay. WAPS, so stressed financially that it is cutting music and art, after closing two schools, is paying the lawyers from the Cities and the SOS defendants (taxpayers themselves) are paying their lawyer.

Tens of thousands of dollars, so far, no doubt.

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