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Lewis officials still working to remove family from former school

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County officials are finding that the eviction of a so-called “free man” and his family from a long-shuttered school building in Lyons Falls is no simple task.

And it’s no picnic for the presiding judge.

“Help me out,” state Supreme Court Justice Charles C. Merrell told Robert Rustad Syversen on Wednesday after Mr. Syversen repeatedly failed to acknowledge being the defendant in the case. “I just want to understand what your claim is.”

The county last spring initiated legal proceedings against Mr. Syversen, stemming from a complaint received by code enforcement officers in December 2011 that the building — owned by the Robert Rustad Syversen estate — was being illegally used as a residence.

Judge Merrell in August ruled that county officials could inspect the 6832 McAlpine St. school, which was closed by the South Lewis Central School District in 1982.

Code enforcement officers subsequently determined that a 1,200-square-foot section on the second story of the 16,032-square-foot building was being used as a single-family residence, with a kitchen, bathroom and three bedrooms. They also found peeling paint suspected to be lead-based and electrical wiring left dangling from ceiling and walls.

“Due to the condition of the building at the present time and the hazards that exist, the building is not suitable for occupancy and should be condemned until such time as the required alterations can be completed,” their report stated.

To meet code, the building would need its classification changed from educational to residential, code officers determined. The residential portion should be separated from the rest of the building with a fire wall, have separate electrical service approved by a certified electric inspector, have proper emergency escapes from each bedroom and have an approved heating system and approved interior finishes, stairs and rails.

The county in November moved for default judgment, and Judge Merrell last month issued an order restraining anyone from living in the old school building until code violations are resolved.

However, Mr. Syversen is seeking to have that vacated on the grounds that the county did not properly serve notice of the pending judgment, leading to Wednesday’s hearing.

“There is clear question as to whether the defendant was ever served,” he said.

Mr. Syversen, who in 2010 filed paperwork at the county clerk’s office indicating he is not a U.S. citizen or subject to governmental authority, referred to himself only as “a party with an equitable interest in the matter.” He did, however, allow Judge Merrell to refer to him as Mr. Syversen.

While the county apparently sent default judgment paperwork to a post office box in Port Leyden and nailed it to the door of the old school, Mr. Syversen — who has not retained an attorney in the matter — claimed that both were invalid ways of serving the “defendant,” adding that he was personally served the judge’s order only after contacting the Sheriff’s Department.

He also indicated that he had given county officials an alternate mailing address for correspondence and denied even recognizing the 6832 McAlpine St. address, saying it “means nothing” to him.

“It shouldn’t matter to the court if he recognizes the address,” countered county attorney Richard J. Graham. “That’s the address.”

The attorney also told the judge that he could find no reference to the Robert Rustad Syversen estate in county Surrogate’s Court records and called its usage “just a ruse to avoid personal responsibility and his responsibilities as a property owner.”

Mr. Syversen objected to Mr. Graham attacking the estate’s legitimacy without providing evidence, although such entities are typically established only when someone dies.

After hearing nearly an hour’s worth of arguments Wednesday, Judge Merrell reserved decision in the matter.

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