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Lewis County prevails in ATV road-opening suit

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County has prevailed in a 2011 legal challenge to the opening of several roads to all-terrain vehicles, a case filed by Janette M. Peek, Watson, and Gerald A. Smith, Barnes Corners, who represented themselves.

Acting state Supreme Court Judge Peter A. Schwerzmann filed his decision Wednesday, citing a previous court ruling in the case in his decision.

“As much as the court would like to reach a decision on the merits of the law in this case, the law of the case doctrine prohibits it from doing so in this case as it is bound to apply common law standing standard as used in prior rounds of litigation.”

Then-state Supreme Court Judge Joseph D. McGuire, in an earlier action in the case, selected that legal path, requiring standing to be determined at trial.

Mr. Smith said he believed a summary judgment motion, which did determine standing and allowed the case to move forward, was enough.

“We aren’t attorneys,” Mr. Smith said. “We got caught in something we didn’t realize. I’m obviously disappointed. We got outmaneuvered by Mr. Graham. My biggest disappointment is that the case wasn’t judged on merit. It was a technical win.”

“It’s been an amazing education,” Mrs. Peek said. “We really focused on the law and how it was not being taken seriously by the county.”

Not knowing they needed to re-establish standing, she said, was a mistake.

“It was the procedure that brought us down. Once again, the law has not been challenged,” she said. “The merits of this case couldn’t be considered.”

Lewis County Attorney Richard J. Graham, when asked for comment, said he agreed with a statement in the decision by Judge Schwerzmann.

“The plaintiffs demonstrated that the county did make all the findings required,” Mr. Graham said.

Legislator Lawrence L. Dolhof, R-Lyons Falls, chairman of the legislative Economic Development Committee, said, “It’s wonderful we have a court ruling that supports what a majority of county residents desire.”

On Tuesday, the Center for Community Studies released the annual Lewis County Survey that indicated 63 percent of residents favor supporting the trail system with county funds.

Mr. Dolhof said roads opened by the county are not opened randomly, but with consideration of the legality of the opening, and are “part of the current discussion how to build out the trail system in a way that makes sense.”

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