Is Palestine Texas trying to steal Lawnmower Man’s property?

The feud between Jerry Laza and the City of Palestine has brewed for decades.

The City of Palestine, Texas, has taken Jerry Laza back to court allegedly to make him comply with a court order and “clean up” his property filled with lawn mowers.

“Laza is running a junkyard at his lawn mower repair shop. The city tried to file a temporary injunction against Laza in early 2017.” – Jim Hankins (Palestine Attorney)

The trial ended in February 2018  with Laza being ordered to “clean up” his property, comply with city ordinances and pay a fine of more than $163,000, according to the Palestine Herald.

Through the Judge granting the City of Palestine a “Motion in Limine” to bar any information, court cases or statements that occurred before May 2016, what the Jury didn’t get to hear is how Laza has his own ordinances issued to him by the City of Palestine. Laza also had those vested right reaffirmed in a municipal case from 2006.

Laza filed an objection to the order and requested a new trial in March 2018 but the city contends that Laza acknowledged he knew about the court’s final ruling and chose to ignore it.

 

Laza was given 60 days to come into compliance with the Judgement.  When the 60 days had passed Ron Stutes filed a Contempt of Court Post Judgement criminal charge against Laza. The Palestine Herald reported that the order calls for Laza to be charged with 19 counts of contempt, charged $500 for each count and to be jailed for no less than seven days. The order also asked for legal fees incurred by the city.

Laza began his business about 26 years ago in Old Town in the location of what is now the Pint and Barrel bar and grill, before moving to 1101 W. Oak St. nearly 20 years ago with the city’s blessing.

Originally the “Old Town” building was owned by the railroad which made lanterns there. We are talking late 1800s. Jumping ahead to the middle of the 20th century a small engine repair shop was located there. The owner and proprietor passed away. Jerry Laza came along and took over the business and later reached an agreement with the owner’s widow who sold it to him.

A few years later members of what would later become the Texas Area Fund Foundation desired the property and according to Laza, went to great lengths to acquire it. They managed to persuade the city to shut off electricity and water to the property. At this point Laza told us he dug his own shallow water well and set up a fuel powered generator on the property and managed to persevere for a couple of years.  When Laza offered to open a homeless shelter in the parking lot, they realized trying to strong arm him into moving was not going to work and they became more reasonable.

Soon After, Laza informed us a deal was made and he switched property’s with them. His former property is now the Pint and Barrel and he was traded an old tractor dealership where he is currently located.

Once again in 2016, a representative of an anonymous buyer was sent to make a deal on 1101 W. Oak. It could be assumed by the City of Palestine, when Laza declined the offer of ½ of what the property was worth, the current civil law suit was filed less than one month after the offer was declined.

 

Then the 50 year flood came and the city claims rats from Jerry Laza’s property attacked the neighborhood

 

In 2016 a flood took place and the city alleges rats that had infested Jerry Laza property from all the lawn mowers began to vacate and torment residents. One man specifically, Victor San Miguel, who has lived next to Laza’s property in the 1100 block of Oak Street since 1990 claimed a rat entered his residence during this time (One time in 20 yrs). It is interesting to point out that the streets and roads nearby were underwater at this time and some residents had navigated them in a small boat.

 

 

San Miguel said a rat apparently caused holes in his house.

 

“I don’t think it’s right for them to damage my home,” he said.

 

San Miguel testified that, after he told Laza about the damage, Laza blamed a squirrel.

 

“I told him I did not think so,” San Miguel said. He said Laza offered to buy his house several times, but San Miguel declined to sell.

 

Laza neighbor Sharon Williams testified that she started having problems with Laza and his property several years ago, when Laza’s livestock started coming to her backyard.

 

 

“I have had rats in my backyard and home,” Williams said. “And I found a snake in my backyard.”

 

She testified that she spotted rat droppings in her house. Mosser, Laza’s Lawyer, wanted to know how she could be certain they were a rat’s.

 

“I know what rat droppings look like,” she said.

 

Williams also testified that traps caught six to seven rats inside her home.

 

 

The neighborhood is rather old and not very affluent to put it mildly.  One resident we spoke with calls it, “the hood.”  Some of the homes here are rental properties that were purchased through city tax foreclosures. There are a few abandoned homes and some in ruins. One was noted with a collapsed roof.

None the less the City of Palestine sued Jerry Laza accusing him of running a junk yard. When the case went to trial in late October, jurors sided with the city, finding Laza liable for running a junkyard.

 

Following five days of testimony on the city’s lawsuit against Laza, jurors unanimously found Laza responsible for 11 issues used by the jury to determine whether the evidence showed he was liable.

Once the Jury issued it’s verdict Laza’s Lawyers asked to be dismissed and Laza began to represent himself.

Laza filed an appeal on June the 4th which records indicate the County Clerk did not send to the Appeals Court. So Jerry Laza filed it himself on June 14th causing him to have to request an extension for being “late”.

Jerry Laza lawyer, James Mosser, filed an original proceeding “Writ of Mandamus” to challenge the trial court’s denial of his motion to show authority in the 12th Court of Appeals September 18, 2017, the same day the District trial started. The 12th Court of Appeals issued a “Stay” which the District Court ignored and continued with the trial.  Returning their decision:

“Because of the removal to federal court, this Court took no action on the motion. On December 15, we

informed Laza that “[pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1446(d) notice is hereby given that the petition, as

indicated by the motion for stay, received in this proceeding does not show the jurisdiction of

this Court, to-wit: the case has been removed to federal court and the federal court now has

exclusive jurisdiction over the case.”

Why?  Because on September 18, 2017 a member of the Potter Minton law firm that Ron Stutes represents filed the entire case City of Palestine v. Jerry Laza in the Federal Court in Tyler.  There the case still sits active.

Yet Jerry Laza has been going to hearing after hearing in District Court in Palestine Texas about 1 to 2 times a month.

 

A few interesting things have come up that Palestine residents may not be aware of.

 

On June 26, 2018 it was revealed in the 349th District Court in Palestine Texas that the city has been suing Jerry Laza for a long time calling his place of business a junk yard and reportedly an underlying theme was to take his property as it once again was desired by some members of the Texas Area Fund Foundation. The big shocker disclosed that day, much I suspect to the horror of Judge Dwight L. Phifer was that Jerry Laza technically does not own the property.  There is a lien in someone else’s name and evidently has been for a long time.

Let that sink in a moment.  The City of Palestine has spent upwards of over $200k in total legal fees pursuing this man trying to take his property. Trying to force him to remove all the old lawnmowers, Accusing him of being responsible for the “great rat invasion” following a flood and?

And he does not even own the place in question.

 

Judge Phifer and Attorney Ron Stutes then produce 3 maps that they say are similar but different. And begin to hurriedly mark with colored ink the properties that Jerry Laza does admit to having a clear deed too.

Touche,’ here is an excerpt of what went on

 

STUTES: THIS IS THE EXHIBIT.

 

THE COURT:  THREE DIFFERENT MAPS?

 

STUTES: THEY’RE ALL SIMILAR, BUT NOT EXACTLY THE

SAME.  FOR INSTANCE, MINE DIDN’T HAVE THE COLORING AND FOR THE

ZONING.  SO THAT’S WHY I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT

AT FIRST.

 

THE COURT:  OKAY.  I’M LOOKING AT EXHIBIT  — 216 TEXAS

AVENUE.  YOU SAY YOU DO NOT OWN THAT?

 

LAZA: I DO NOT OWN THAT.

 

THE COURT:  DOES THE CITY AGREE WITH THAT?

 

STUTES: WE AGREE WITH THAT.

 

THE COURT:  THEN BASED UPON MY MAP AND LOOKING AT YOUR

MAP IMMEDIATELY SOUTH OF 216 TEXAS AVENUE THERE’S 1125 WEST OAK

STREET.  YOU SAY YOU DO NOT OWN THAT?

 

LAZA: I DO OWN THAT.

 

THE COURT:  DO YOU HAVE A DEED TO THAT?

 

LAZA: THE BANK DOES, BUT YES. YES.

 

THE COURT:  IF THE BANK HAS A DEED TO IT, YOU DON’T OWN

IT.

 

Imagine the horror after the Judge Phifer and Attorney Ron Stutes tediously go over 3 different city maps of the same area, that are “slightly different but the same” to only learn that all of these properties are actually have a lien by someone else.

 

THE COURT:   YOU ONLY HAVE ONE ACTUAL PROMISSORY NOTE?

 

LAZA: I HAVE ONE NOTE.

 

THE COURT:  AND HOW MUCH IS THAT NOTE FOR?

 

LAZA: IT’S — I ACTUALLY DON’T KNOW IT’S ACTUAL

NUMBER RIGHT NOW BUT IT’S PROBABLY $600,000.

 

THE COURT:  AND THAT NOTE IS SECURED BY DEED OF TRUST

ON ONLY THE HOUSE AND 17 ACRES?

 

LAZA: NO, SIR. IT’S OWNED BY ALL THE PROPERTIES.

ALL THE PROPERTIES THAT I HAVE IS ON THIS NOTE.  I HAVE ONE NOTE.

AND IT HAS ALL OF MY PROPERTY IN IT.

 

So Palestine spent how much going after this property?  A Federal Court date looms ahead.  Evidently records were revealed that the original attorney Ron Stutes was not authorized to sue on behalf of the City. He charged them just over $100k and then Attorney James Hankins (they like to call him Jim) charged around another $100k. Hankins initially took the case for the city but later left turning it over to Stutes.  Currently the city tax payers have been billed for more than $200k.

One problem that has surfaced, Ron Stutes stated under oath he did not have to city’s authorization to sue Jerry Laza on behalf of the city.  That is not good.  Imagine hiring an attorney for your neighbor to sue an insurance company and your neighbor has no idea.  Yea, it’s illegal to do that in case you were wondering.

On record the City Mayor and 2 City Council Members deny knowledge of the case or authorizing it.  Attorney Ron Stutes admits to not having the written nor verbal consent to file the case yet he has billed over $200k and been paid. The local newspaper has written stories about it.  How could you not know?

Even more interesting, how can you deny knowledge of or giving authorization for the suit? Maybe because the FBI and Justice Department have been looking into it?  Maybe.

 

 

Stay tuned for updates on the Lawn Mower Man and his Rat Army.