Fisher: Agreement reached in lawsuit

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

District Attorney Mike Fisher on May 18 said a settlement agreement had been reached in a lawsuit filed in August 2018 against Osage County regarding a flawed attempt to sell the Kennedy Building, located in downtown Pawhuska.

Property investor Jay Mitchell filed suit in Osage County District Court about a year after an August 2017 auction, in which he had been the high bidder. His winning bid was $232,000. The result was nullified.

District 3 Commissioner Darren McKinney said in 2017 that the sale was fatally flawed because the Board of County Commissioners failed to officially declare the Kennedy Building a surplus property beforehand. The building is an historic landmark.

During the handling of the lawsuit, the court decided that the building could not legally have been conveyed to a new owner under the circumstances at the time of the 2017 auction. However, a breach-of-contract element of the case remained unresolved when the two sides on May 17 attended a voluntary mediation session. Had mediation failed, the case very likely could have gone to trial.

Instead of potentially holding a costly trial, the litigants agreed that Mitchell would drop the lawsuit, allowing the county commissioners to declare the Kennedy Building a surplus property and hold a new auction, Fisher said.

If the successful bidder is someone other than Mitchell, the county is to receive the first $232,000 of proceeds and Mitchell is to be paid any additional proceeds, Fisher said.

County government will not have to pay any of Mitchell’s attorney fees, Fisher said.

The district attorney said May 18 that the agreement had not yet been formally submitted to the court.

”It’s just a handwritten agreement right now, signed by the parties,” Fisher said. He credited the mediator with articulating the elements of a potential agreement in a way that the litigants could accept.

Fisher said the county commissioners have consistently sought to find a way to get back to the state of affairs that existed before the mistake took place.

“They worked very hard with my office to make sure we were doing it the right way,” Fisher said of the commissioners. He credited District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones with going “above and beyond” to help resolve the case. He also said Assistant District Attorney Ashley Kane did an outstanding job

”We’re glad to have this resolved,” Fisher said. “It has been ongoing for too long.”