2017-09-21 / Front Page

Ranch seizure draws ire of defense attorney

Another court hearing slated for Oct. 4

A ranch in Mariposa County is now in the hands of the state and the owner believes the taking of the property was illegal.

Jerry Cox, 48, who was recently exonerated in a felony case in which he was charged with multiple counts of sex-related crimes, was in Mariposa County Superior Court last week arguing in another case.

That case involves JDC Land Company, which Cox owns. The 400-plus acre property, known as Bison Creek Ranch, was recently seized by the state in a receivership case.

That ruling came on July 17 and was signed by Superior Court Judge Dana Walton.

In his ruling, Walton ordered that a receiver, Mark Adams, be appointed “with full powers” granted under state law in which it is alleged there were more than 100 health and safety violations on the property.

In that order, the judge authorized the receiver to borrow up to $25,000 on behalf of the estate for “purposes of securing the subject property and developing a rehabilitation plan for the subject property in accordance with this order.”

It was also ordered the receiver take full and complete possession of the property, “including the tangible and intangible personal property located on or about the subject property or used in connection with the subject property.”

It ordered the receiver to “manage” the property and pay the operating expenses, including taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance and other debts.

The order allows for the receiver to borrow funds “as necessary” to pay for the rehabilitation of the property. Those funds, the order states, “shall be entitled to become first-priority liens against the subject property superseding all other interests subject to this order.”

It also states the debt shall be “due and payable” upon completion of the duties of the receiver.

“If the certificates cannot be immediately satisfied when they become due, receiver may apply to this court to sell the subject property free and clear of all subordinate lines and encumbrances...”

Since the order was filed, Cox has filed an appeal with the California 5th District Court of Appeals.

However, his attorney, Randolph Krbechek of Fresno, said that process could take up to two years.

“We are a long ways from a hearing,” said Krbechek in an interview with the Mariposa Gazette.

In addition, Krbechek said an appeal “doesn’t stop the County from doing what it is doing.”

In the meantime, a court hearing was held last week in which Adams, the receiver in the case, was asking for additional funding for security and other matters related to the property.

There have been hired armed guards at the property since it was taken in July.

Adams asked the court last week for an additional $205,000.

That money, he said, is for continued security and a “rehabilitation analysis.”

“I think it is important there be security at the site,” said Adams.

He did said he realized it is a “substantial amount of money.”

He added the funds are “not for demolition.”

Krbechek told the court the original $25,000 is “real money,” but that an additional $205,000 is “the kind of money” where Cox could lose his property.

The attorney questioned the validity of what Adams says is the condition of the property.

He asked the court to consider a “critical investigation” and a “detailed analysis.”

“Is the receiver accurately stating the condition of his property?” asked Krbechek.

The judge told both parties he wanted to continue the hearing and set a court day in the near future.

The judge did say he has a “declaration” stating the condition of the property. He also emphasized the receivership case has been adjudicated and the orders are in place.

Those declarations were part of the original case and included statements from a variety of people who outlined the condition of the property, something Krbechek questions.

Attorney William F. Kelly of Irvine, who is representing Mariposa County in the matter, pointed out to the court there has already been a judgment in the case.

Judge Walton set a new hearing date for Wednesday, Oct. 4 at 1:30 p.m. in Mariposa County Superior Court. He also ordered both sides to supply declarations at least three days prior to the hearing.

But the matter didn’t end at that point.

Adams asked the court for the ability to obtain an additional $70,000 to cover expenses until the Oct. 4 hearing.

He said that is for security costs and “a portion of my fees.”

Krbechek said he thought $70,000 was “excessive.”

The attorney then brought up the matter of the rape charges in which Cox was exonerated in an order dated Aug. 14 and signed by Walton.

“I haven’t considered that in any way, shape or form,” said the judge.

Walton also brought up the fact he said “people” who are “near” Cox are “causing problems” by going to the property, which is located on CYA Road near Mt. Bullion.

The judge also said “if they keep going out there” it will “cost more.”

Cox has put out several YouTube videos in which he claims to show the condition of the property is different than alleged by the state.

The judge did allow the $70,000 to be obtained to be used at the property until the next hearing.

Krbechek then said he wanted to submit video evidence about the condition of the property. Earlier in the hearing, Krbechek said he was prepared to put Cox on the stand and show video evidence.

“I’m not going to make this a full-blown evidentiary hearing,” said Walton, noting the matter has already been ruled on and an appeal filed.

The judge said the evidence would be based on declarations from witnesses about the condition of the property. He did say he would accept as much as could be offered by both sides.

Krbechek again pressed Walton about how to submit video evidence as part of the declarations.

“There will be no video evidence used by the court,” said Walton.

“So the court will not look at video to see the condition of the property?” asked Krbechek.

The attorney said the court has control over the “extent of the receivership ... at all times.”

Shortly thereafter, Walton gaveled the hearing closed and said he would hear further arguments on Oct. 4.

Frustration of defense attorney

Krbechek, in an interview conducted prior to the court hearing last week, said he is frustrated with the entire process.

“Isn’t the underlying question, ‘What are they really trying to accomplish here?’” asked Krbechek. “Are they trying to make things so miserable for this guy they want to drive him out of the County?”

He also said there are “three or four structures” on the property which spans 436 acres.

“Why do you have to have an armed guard out there?” he said. “How does that make sense? You could fairly ask that question.”

He also said California’s receivership laws are mainly used in cases where there are permanent residential dwellings, such as when someone owns rental homes and is not taking care of the property.

In such cases, Krbechek said those people have to continue to live in the dwellings and that’s why a receiver is appointed to make sure they are habitable.

In this case, he said Cox is not obliged to continue operating a ranch where guests can stay.

“Nothing says he has to continue to rent it out,” said Krbechek. “Why do we need to force this down his throat?”

The attorney then also hinted at what might be coming in his case, citing California’s “Agriculture Homestay” law.

That legislation, signed into law in 1999, allows for farmers and ranchers to offer tourists overnight visits. However, it exempts farms and ranching operations that offer overnight stays from the more stringent requirements of operating a commercial restaurant.

There are various provisions in the law, including the establishment has six guest rooms or less and not more than 15 guests, provides overnight transient accommodations, serves food only to its registered guest and serves meals at any time and that the food is included in the price of the overnight accommodations. It also says lodging and meals are not the primary function of the establishment, which focus on agritourism experiences.

“The County, so far as we know, it is impossible to get an agriculture homestay,” said Krbechek. “Have they ever issued a permit for someone to operate it? If not, he will never be allowed to make money on that property.”

In fact, Mariposa County has issued a homestay permit, according to Mariposa County Planning Director Sarah Williams.

That permit was issued in July 2014 for a property on Ben Hur Road.

Here’s a paragraph from the approval letter issued by the planning department:

“An Agricultural Homestay allows up to 5 rooms to be rented to guests at your ranch. More than just a Bed and Breakfast, you are allowed to serve and charge three meals a day, and snacks, from a kitchen approved by Environmental Health, and not just breakfast. Providing guests with agricultural services and activities on your ranch is an approved use for an Agricultural Homestay.”

Due process questioned

The attorney also believes the entire case has been mishandled.

“I don’t think he received due process of law,” said Krbechek. “It is unconstitutional.”

He also said the lawyers for the receivership brought up the criminal matter, in which Cox was exonerated.

“All that criminal stuff they brought up was contrary to law,” said Krbechek. “And they brought it up anyway to inflame passions.”

The attorney said Judge Walton told the attorneys he disregarded that portion of the case.

“The judge claimed he was disregarding it,” said Krbechek. “But you know, that is judge speak. The judge read it, knew what it said and certainly had it in the back of his mind. There’s no way to erase from a judge that he never heard it. There is no way to unring the bell once the bell has rung.”

Krbechek claims the attorneys brought up the criminal case to taint Cox.

“They hit below the belt. It was a low blow,” said Krbechek.

He claims by introducing the criminal case in the civil matter, it could have swayed the final decision.

“It most assuredly didn’t help, did it?” said Krbechek. “Whether it’s the tipping point, we’ll never know.”

Greg Little is Editor of the Mariposa Gazette and can be reached at greg@mariposagazette.com.

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