In a tersely worded decision, Oregon 10th Judicial District Judge Thomas B. Powers, found in favor of Wallowa County for payment of $97,444 in attorney fees after an unsuccessful lawsuit filed by citizen Dave Talbott regarding the return of property.
In the Oct. 17, 2017 suit, Talbott claimed that he had a right to “reimburse” the county for the return of more than 1,000 acres the county foreclosed on in 2007 due to non-payment of property taxes. He legally had two years beyond the foreclosure date to challenge the county’s actions.
In August 2018, Judge Powers found that Talbott’s entire suit had no objectively reasonable basis and that Talbott and his attorneys “knowingly recorded two invalid claims of encumbrance against the subject property (two title notices).” He also dismissed the suit with prejudice, which means it cannot be brought again.
Talbott’s attorneys then filed a motion for a new trial. Judge Powers denied the motion and proceeded to decide the amount of attorney fees to award to the county as the prevailing party
On Aug. 21, the county asked for costs of $370 and a statutory prevailing party fee of $85. The county also asked for an additional $97,444 in court fees, and for the additional legal work performed for the county after the county prevailed on the four defense claims.
Talbott and his firm did not dispute the reasonableness of the rates charged, the amount of time spent on the work or the work performed. They also didn’t dispute the $370 and $85 costs but did challenge the county’s right to any reimbursement for the rest.
Powers set the record straight for the plaintiffs over the 17 following pages of his decision, finding against Talbott and his firm on nearly every point of law. Powers than proceeded to note that the claims as a whole were unreasonable for a number of reasons, including the faultiness of the original claim. The judge used the words “wordsmithing” and “creatively framed” to describe a large part of the suit’s claims, that even implied irregularities, omissions and defects on the county’s part when it took possession of Talbott’s land.
The county is still awaiting Judge Powers’ decision on awarding the $55,000 paid into the court on Talbott’s behalf.
The Hostetter Law Group represented Talbott in the suit while attorney Bruno Jagelski of Ontario represented the county.