Canyon County

Lawsuit over highway commissioner’s ‘junkyard’ settled, but criminal convictions remain

Items on the property of Canyon Highway District Commissioner John McEvoy, as seen in early March.
Items on the property of Canyon Highway District Commissioner John McEvoy, as seen in early March. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

John McEvoy, in his third term as a highway district commissioner in Canyon County, will now have a year and a half to clean up tires, trailers and other debris on land he owns south of Middleton.

But the elected official must return to court next month for resentencing on two related misdemeanors after a series of appeals that ended in December.

Disputes over the safety and aesthetics of McEvoy’s property at 1703 N. Kcid Road — also home to vacant vehicles and other items — have been an ongoing legal issue for years. His cleanup deadline is the product of a new settlement in a lawsuit brought by his neighbors.

On May 16, voters will decide whether to give McEvoy a fourth term representing Sub-District 2 of Canyon Highway District No. 4. His only challenger is Tren Sundquist of Caldwell, who said he has never run for public office before, but felt motivated to file because he sees “substantial room” for improvement in the district.

“When I decided to run I was aware the other candidate had some issues with the law, I was not aware of the extent,” Sundquist said about his opponent. “His issues with the law did not play a role in my decision to run. I do believe, however, a person in that position should adhere to the oath of office and try to be a model for the people of the county they represent.”

McEvoy is set for sentencing at 9 a.m. May 17 — the day after the election. He said his tenure in office “speaks for itself” and that illness and other issues contributed to the problems around his property.

“I’ve been trying to cooperate for years,” he said. “Some of those demands that were put up on me were not real. ... I have stuff, yes, but a lot of people have stuff.”

Others in politics, he said, “have far worse gremlins in the closet than I do.”

A NEIGHBORHOOD LAWSUIT

Debbie and Mark Hribik, Dianne and Jeff Huter, Karma and Terry Jensen, and Randy Wood are all named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit against McEvoy. Their properties are adjacent to McEvoy’s property.

The lawsuit called McEvoy’s property a public nuisance, and neighbors alleged he stored hazardous materials on it.

The neighbors cited in the complaint the excess vehicles, tires and trailers on McEvoy’s property along with other debris.

The case closed March 15 after the neighbors and McEvoy settled the lawsuit in mediation.

Debbie Hribik said the agreement gives McEvoy 18 months to bring his property into compliance. If he does so, he avoids having to pay $100,000.

McEvoy still argues that many of the allegations leveled at him over the years have no basis, or had more personal motives than public ordinance issues.

“We have an agreement to make everybody happy, and I think that should be enough, personally,” he said of the settlement.

Hribik said that while she is hopeful McEvoy will comply, she had hoped her attorney’s fees would be reimbursed. And, she feels that Canyon County should have done a better job enforcing property code.

“As far as I am concerned, it cost thousands of dollars for me to do Canyon County’s job in enforcing the law,” she said of her legal fees alone.

“All this time spent is more valuable than the money spent (in the lawsuit). The time researching that I spent in getting him to comply with the law. That is not my job.”

The Canyon County Development Services Department does not track how many times it responds to a specific property, so there isn’t a record of of visits to McEvoy’s property. The department has, however, been tracking the complaints for years and the first citation against him was issued in 2012, said Canyon County spokesman Joe Decker.

That department attempted to get McEvoy to voluntarily comply with relevant ordinances, but eventually had to refer the matter to county prosecutors, who cited him. The county also referred certain aspects to the state departments of Water Resources and Environmental Quality, Decker said. The referral to the prosecutor’s office is where the initial misdemeanors came from.

Decker said the Canyon County Development Services Department has continued to follow both the litigation in criminal court and the private litigation between McEvoy and his neighbors. Appeals and delays in the judicial system have put delays on how quickly McEvoy complied with county regulations.

BACK IN COURT

After unsuccessfully appealing his convictions to the Idaho Court of Appeals, McEvoy will at least get a new sentence next month.

The Idaho Court of Appeals on Dec. 13 of last year affirmed McEvoy’s misdemeanor convictions for maintaining a public nuisance and failing to obtain a required building permit.

McEvoy had pleaded guilty to the county ordinance violations on March 3, 2015. But 16 days later he asked to withdraw the pleas after objecting to any related search of his property, according to the higher court’s opinion.

The magistrate judge hearing his case denied his request to withdraw the plea, and a district judge upheld the magistrate’s decision.

McEvoy was sentenced in April 2015 to a $1,000 fine for each charge, with $800 suspended, and 180 days of “reserved” jail time. The district judge, however, said the term “reserved” was ambiguous and McEvoy must be resentenced. The Court of Appeals agreed.

The appellate judges disagreed with McEvoy’s assertions that the magistrate court abused its discretion and that he was vindictively prosecuted.

With the appeals resolved, McEvoy is headed back to Canyon County court for sentencing at 9 a.m. May 17.

To date, Canyon County reports he hasn’t served any time in jail.

In March, McEvoy was charged with another accused misdemeanor for livestock at large. The Canyon County Sheriff’s Office cited him for having loose goats on March 9.

Canyon County has twice withheld part of McEvoy’s taxes to make up for his unpaid court fees. According to the county, $105 was withheld on July 7, 2015, and another $95 was withheld on June 2, 2016.

Ruth Brown: 208-377-6207, @RuthBrownNews

The Statesman’s Nate Poppino contributed.

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