May 2010 – Heemstra lawyer asks judge to throw our civil fraud verdict

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Des Moines Register. William Petroski. May 10, 2010.

Heemstra lawyer asks judge to throw our civil fraud verdict

A lawyer for former Milo farmer Rodney Heemstra is asking a judge to throw out a court ruling last year which ordered the sale of land in five counties to satisfy a $5.68 million wrongful death verdict for the slaying of his neighbor.

The petition to overturn the Sept. 18, 2009 ruling was filed in Warren County District Court on Friday by lawyer Joseph Hrvol of Council Bluffs, who represents Heemstra, his wife Berta and some of their relatives. He cited a January 2010 Iowa Court of Appeals ruling which invalidated certain writs of attachment to Heemstra’s properties.

Heemstra shot to death his unarmed neighbor, Tom Lyon, in January 2003 following a series of arguments over farmland and cattle-watering equipment. Lyon’s estate has been trying to collect damages ever since a judgment was ordered against Heemstra in 2008.

Last September, District Judge Paul Huscher issued a civil fraud ruling against Heemstra, calling him “conniving” and “motivated by greed.” He agreed with Lyon’s estate that Heemstra and his relatives had used a series of sham transactions in an effort to transfer farmland and other assets to avoid payment of the $5.68 million judgment.

Huscher also ordered an additional $750,000 in damages against Heemstra and his wife, plus $250,000 in legal fees.

In seeking to overturn last September’s District Court order, Hrvol cited a January 2010 ruling by the Iowa Court of Appeals which concluded that that certain writs of attachment to Heemstra’s property had been erroneously issued in January and February 2003. The appeals court wrote, “The estate did not have a right of attachment in this wrongful death action.” The court said prejudgment attachment has not been recognized in a tort action.

Because of the unlawful pre-judgment attachments, there could be no basis for Heemstra or his relatives to be accused of fraudulently transferring land, Hrvol said.

“The judgment against Rodney and Berta Heemstra for punitive damages and equitable attorney fees should be … nullified, vacated, discharged or released,” Hrvol wrote.

Any money already paid by any of the defendants should be returned to them, and any further attempts to sell the Heemstra’s properties should stop, Hrvol added.

Donald Beattie, a lawyer for Lyon’s widow, Ronda, had no immediate comment on Monday. Huscher has not set a date for a hearing on Hrvol’s petition.

A hearing had been scheduled in Warren County District Court on Monday for retired Judge James W. Brown of Osceola to make a presentation regarding plans for the sale of the Heemstra family’s land to satisfy damages owed to Lyon’s estate.

Brown filed a written report, but the hearing was postponed until June 24 in Warren County District Court to allow for participation by the state of Iowa, which claims it has tax liens against some of Heemstra’s property.