A Grant man must pay attorneys' fees for a neighbor he sued in a dispute over campaign signs, a district judge has ordered.
Jeffrey L. Nielsen owes $127,580.47 to the law firm representing Keith Mueller, a fellow resident of Grant.
Nielsen began legal action in 2010 when he removed two campaign signs that he said had been improperly placed in Grant, a city of about 4,100 residents just west of Stillwater.
Nielsen sued Mueller and another Grant resident, Steve Bohnen, on grounds that they retaliated against him for removing the signs, and for Mueller's "aggressive actions" against him. Mueller and Bohnen had reported Nielsen's removal of signs to the Washington County Sheriff's Office.
Judge Stephen Halsey threw the Mueller portion of the case out of court in May. Bohnen's attorney, Robert Hill, has asked the court for the same judgment for his client.
In an order filed Aug. 20, Halsey ordered that Nielsen must pay fees and other costs to attorney Lawrence Schaefer within 60 days. On Wednesday, Halsey denied a request by one of Nielsen's attorneys, Thomas Pahl, that the judge reconsider his decision.
"The time and labor required in this matter to defend Mueller has been significant because of its long procedural history, which includes the recusal of three judges ... [and] four motions hearings on multiple motions for summary judgment," Halsey wrote.
"The nature and difficulty of the responsibility assumed by Mueller's counsel was also significant because of the public policy concerns of litigants claiming immunity for reporting a crime and because of the emotional impact on Mueller for having to defend a lawsuit for more than a year and a half before he was granted immunity from the suit."
The immunity means that the court concluded that Mueller, a financial planner, had reported a theft in good faith. Halsey approved reimbursement to Schaefer and another attorney in the firm, Darren Sharp.
"It's an appropriate final chapter to litigation that never should have involved Mr. Mueller in the first place," Schaefer said last week. "This dispute certainly wasn't a sterling example of the use of the legal system."
Bohnen's attorney, Hill, has contended that Nielsen's lawsuit is frivolous and falls into a legal trend known as SLAPP, which means "Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participants." That trend, in full swing on the national political landscape, has targeted first-time candidates for political office, according to court actions tracked nationally.
"We will receive in excess of $250,000 in fees when we prove Bohnen's good faith reporting of criminal activity under the same statute Mueller used to receive reimbursement for this monstrous denigration of the rule of law," Hill said last week.
Bohnen is a car salesman who earns $3,200 as a City Council member. He is serving his first term.
Nielsen has initiated several lawsuits in recent years including a defamation case against a former Roseville mayor that the state appeals court struck down in 2001.
Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037 Twitter: @stribgiles