As the battle over the gate across Hughes Creek Road headed to court, attorney Jesse Kodadek filed what he considers a once-in-a-lifetime Montana Supreme Court brief — in the form of a play.
He figures that judges get a little bored reading legal briefs all day, every day. And since the Hughes Creek Road-gate case has taken so many twists and turns, he thought writing the opening brief as a play might make it a little easier to understand.
“I think about it all the time, especially with appellate judges, who read people’s writings every day,” said Kodadek, who is based in Missoula. “The Montana Supreme Court can’t tell what’s going on half the time, so I tried to be as clear as possible and lay out the story. I think there’s one time in your lifetime you can do something like this.”
Although the case goes back decades, it rose anew in January 2017 when the Ravalli County Commission denied a petition by landowners in the Hughes Creek area to abandon the upper stretch of the road. Instead, commissioners ordered the landowners to remove a gate that blocked the road for at least 40 years.
The gate was supposed to be removed by June 1. If landowners Jay and Tracy Bugli declined to take it down, the county threatened to do it on Aug. 1.
Meanwhile, on July 6, Judge Jeffrey Langton dismissed a lawsuit by the landowners behind the fence that sought to permanently gate Hughes Creek Road. But the Buglis and Wade, Charlene and Violet Cox went to court and were issued a temporary restraining order by Langton on July 31 and a court hearing was set for Aug. 14.
Meanwhile, they filed for a review of the lawsuit Langton dismissed, but also filed the Montana Supreme Court lawsuit in which Kodadek, the landowners’ attorney, took poetic license with the conventional court brief.
After stating the three issues for review, Kodadek then makes his statement of the case in “Act I: The Political Process,” which appears to have some potential for comic opera.
“County: Hey, some people want us to make you take down that gate.”
“Landowners: The gate in front of our house? The one that has been there since at least the 1970s?”
“County: Yes, that one. Some people say a county road continues beyond it.”
“Landowners: Didn’t you sue us in 1984 to try to get the very same gate removed?”
And on it goes for four more pages, with Act II taking place at the courthouse. A footnote reminds the Supreme Court judges that this isn’t a verbatim transcript.
Eventually, Kodadek returns to standard legalese. But he clearly enjoys flexing his literary muscle — he was a literature major in undergraduate studies — and said that after it was filed in October, he got a couple emails from other attorneys who enjoyed reading it.
But so far, no response from Ravalli County, except for a motion asking for an extension until Jan. 11, 2018, to file its own brief.
Perhaps they’re working on Act III.