Oral arguments before the Missouri Court of Appeals in the highly publicized case of property owner Barbara Buescher vs. Jefferson City are scheduled for April 5 in the mock courtroom at the Legal Studies Department at William Woods University in Fulton, the News Tribune learned Wednesday.
The city first sued Buescher on June 18, 2015, alleging multiple violations of the municipal building code on properties Buescher owns in the historic East Capitol Avenue neighborhood.
Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce found Buescher guilty May 17 last year and imposed a $24,785.33 judgment against her, representing expenses the city had incurred to resolve those alleged violations. Buescher appealed the Joyce ruling, and Audrey E. Smollen, the attorney for Buescher, filed a notice of appeal June 24.
Smollen filed a reply brief at close of business Tuesday, rebutting the city's three-week-old response in the case. Smollen, of the Rosenthal Law Firm in Jefferson City, wrote in her new filing, "Respondent (the City) again errantly relies on a mistaken understanding of the extent of power of a Constitutional Charter City."
Her conclusion is the ordinances upon which the city relies "in every count of its petition against appellant (Buescher) contravenes statutes, rendering the ordinance void and unenforceable." She suggests "a void ordinance deprives the court of subject matter jurisdiction, therefore, the trial court could legitimately take no action in this case other than to exercise its power to dismiss."
Terence G. Lord, chief clerk of the Court of Appeals, said court administrators decided to move the important verbal presentations to the William Woods campus as an accommodation to the principals, attorneys and other interested parties in the case.
"There's no sense causing all of these people to come to Kansas City when we have alternative sites close to Jefferson City to hear the oral argument," Lord told the News Tribune.
Much importance rests on the oral arguments in the appeals courts of Missouri.
They are the occasion on which the opposing lawyers in any given case speak to the judges at close range in a true courtroom setting. Each lawyer, or team of lawyers, comes to the oral argument prepared to talk for the full allotment of minutes stipulated by the court. That seldom occurs, however, because they are interrupted by the judges asking questions.
In Missouri, an appeal is neither a retrial or new trial. No new witnesses are heard, and no new evidence is received by the appeals court. The appeal is based on arguments there were errors in the original trial's procedure or the trial judge erred in his or her interpretation of the law.
Smollen said Wednesday she was not at liberty to discuss the case with the media on instructions from her client. The city has retained the Jefferson City firm of Berry Wilson to litigate the Buescher case. Marshall Venable Wilson is expected to deliver the oral argument on behalf of the city.
Bryan Wolford, the assistant Jefferson City attorney, said he was excited the appeals court had chosen the William Woods site, which he said would give city staff a rare opportunity to observe oral argument at that level.
Buescher is the most prominent property owner involved in the East Capitol Avenue Urban Renewal Plan. She owns almost 20 of the 46 parcels initially targeted by the Housing Authority for rehabilitation, including four of the first five prioritized at a joint City Council-Housing Authority meeting a month ago.
She is a funeral director and embalmer whose business was operated from a sprawling Italianate mansion at 429 E. Capitol Ave. That structure is a linchpin of the East Capitol neighborhood and one of the most recognized buildings in Jefferson City. It is vacant and is listed on the city's abandoned property registry, as well as on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places.