Idaho governor, ranch partner look to revive lawsuit

Butch Otter and Michael Gwartney never collected on attorney fees awarded in 2002 as part of a property suit.

jsowell@idahostatesman.comNovember 6, 2013 

Gov. Butch Otter and his ranch partner, Michael Gwartney, retired head of the Idaho Department of Administration, hope a missed court deadline last year won’t end up costing them nearly $83,000 from an old civil judgment.

Fourth District Judge Melissa Moody ruled last December that a motion to renew a judgment — required every five years when an outstanding judgment has not been paid — was filed two days too late.

Last month, G.O. Ranches, owned by Gwartney and Otter, filed a new lawsuit hoping to revive the judgment, which with interest had grown from $46,185 since it was awarded in 2002. The lawsuit names Daniel Weitz, Cheryl Dorris and several companies operated by Weitz as defendants.

Weitz and Dorris ran the Eagle-based Lonesome Dove Ranch, which staged weddings, horse shows and other events set among backdrops styled after the television show. The ranch also boarded horses and provided catered food for events.

The couple withheld rent after they said G.O. Ranches failed to resolve a sewer system problem that led health officials to shut down Lonesome Dove’s food-service operation. In February 1998, District Judge Deborah Bail ordered Weitz and Dorris to vacate the premises unless they paid $10,500 in back rent.

They were evicted. Afterward, Weitz and Dorris failed to remove equipment and personal belongings from the 41-acre ranch. Their items were placed in storage and sold at a sheriff’s auction after they went unclaimed. The property, which included vehicles, snowmobiles and bucking chutes, brought $3,200 at auction. Weitz claimed the property was worth more than $250,000.

Weitz and Dorris sued for the difference in April 2001. A judge ruled that G.O. Ranches and the Ada County Sheriff’s Office followed the law in dealing with the abandoned property. The sheriff was involved in removing the property and placing it in storage, along with Otter and his brother, Sonny Otter.

In 2002, G.O Ranches was awarded attorney fees and costs, which accounted for the $46,185 judgment.

Under Idaho law, uncollected judgments must be renewed every five years. An extension was granted in 2007, but the motion for the subsequent renewal, filed Oct. 26, 2012, came two days late.

Otter told the Idaho Statesman that he did not recall the case, which was first filed while he was lieutenant governor. He referred questions to Gwartney, who did not return a call.

Vernon Smith, a Boise lawyer who represented Weitz in the earlier lawsuit, said he did not know whether Weitz would retain him for the current action. He declined further comment.

John Sowell: 377-6423

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