When you've committed murder hire OJ Simpson's dream team.
Missouri politicians who violate public trust hire attorney's James Meadows and John Holstein, "Missouri's Corruption Dream Team".
Before representing the "City of Branson", Meadows and Holstein were hired by the state to represent former Governor Matt Blunt during a heated gubernatorial race where "Sunshine Law Violations" were the source of some very public political attacks. Blunt's political opponent, former Missouri Attorney General and now Missouri Governor Jay Nixon was leading the investigation. A primary issue at hand was the responsibility of government to retain documents.
Holstien argued politicians have a right to destroy documents after a short period of time. Eventually Holstein conceded to "error" and approx $500,000 from tax coffers were used to pay off Kimberling City Attorney Scott Eckersley.
Unfortunately, the governments right to destroy public information never went to trial. Eckersley. an idealist young Republican eventually left the party and ran against Congressman Billy Long on a Democratic ticket in an unsuccessful bid for Missouri's 7th Congressional District seat. $100,000 of the taxpayer funded payout was used to fund Eckersly's campaign.
Current Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster hasn't taken a hard stand on the issue but has assigned personnel to help state political bodies learn compliance terms; however, prosecution of "Sunshine Law" violations haven't increased to any substantial degree. Moreso the lingering question of whether bodies can freely destroy documents has enabled a massive whitewash by less honorable politicians.
Branson Mayor Raeanne Presley is one of these politicians who claim the right to destroy public documents while the status remains in question.
Prior to becoming mayor Presley was an active advocate of open government policies. Involved in several lawsuits against the city of Branson and an unsuccessful effort to stop the Branson Landing and build a "Great Mall of America" through public subsidies on Presley family property; Presley ranked third in public information requests.
2008 Budgets reveal that Presley was allocated $4,000,000 for an expense labeled "Branson Mayor and Board of Alderman". Open meeting requests for the documents have been denied.
Holstein's employment has been carefully hidden from the press. The former Supreme Court Justice charges a pretty penny for his services and the exact amount Branson taxpayers are paying hasn't been clarified - even thought they've been requested through application of Missouri's Sunshine Law during public Branson Board of Alderman sessions.
After firing Holstein's son-in-law and former Branson City Attorney Paul Link, Presley hired Attorney Tim Davis. During a brief period of Branson's history where Mrs. Presley promised the City of Branson would start complying with open government statutes, Davis' contract was posted for public view. Holstien's contract has not been released though it has been requested.
Davis had an official position as Branson City Attorney; but this position was only to conceal his responsibilities. Davis would later state, "I was working with Branson on a specific issue and I'm not at liberty to disclose exactly what that issue was'.
In fact, when Davis attempted to address some very serious social problems he was shot down, reminded he had a specific place and was eventually released from a position he was paid to hold yet never allowed to assume responsibility for. During a public outcry over Presley's attempts to default on a "pay per performance" contract with the Branson Airport, documents reveal it was his duty to try to undo Link's financial commitment. At the time, Branson's Board of Alderman was split on the issue of Presley's ethics in regards to meeting the contractual obligation.
Holstien, who has yet to be mentioned by any of Branson's weekly newspapers or radio news outlets appeared in a court proceeding with Community Bank of the Ozarks. A contract with Community Bank of the Ozarks enabled Doug Coverdell to finance a defense from a quiet title suit where Empire District Electric sued the City of Branson, Doug Coverdell and six other parties. While the City of Branson is a defendant, a seperate lawsuit claims Branson collaborated with Empire District Electric to steal land in order to build the Branson Landing project. Coverdell also alleges that Holstien acquired his personal financial records and co-operated with the bank to pull the loan. During testimony
Community Bank of the Ozarks ...To be continued....
“Send donations for Joplin now” is the message the Branson community wants to deliver on June 26, 2011, during the live concert and telethon being staged by the Southwest Missouri town known as the “live music show capital of the world”. The live benefit concert will be at The Mansion Theatre and tickets are on sale now for a minimum donation of $50 by calling 1-866-707-4100 or visiting JoplinBenefit.com.As of this date the jam-packed night of special entertainment will include performances and appearances from stars and celebrities including:
The working document contained below is an attempt to provide an exhaustive record of the attorney's that have worked on the Branson Landing land dispute currently tied up in the court of appeals. The story is complex and developing. To properly understand the case it's important to review the history, players, relationships and legal action. Recently, the court of appeals reversed a Taney County jury verdict granting disputed land to Coverdell. It is anticipated that Coverdell's counsel will ask for reconsideration sometime this week at which time the case is likely to either head back to the circuit court for correction or up to the Supreme Court for review. Over the next week documents revealing case history and in-depth coverage of the players will be posted.
Before Paul Link signed a contract with the City of Branson in 2005 to serve as Branson City Attorney he worked for Lathrop and Gage. Empire District Electric would hire Lathrop and Gage to quiet title on disputed property within the Branson Landing border.
It's been seven years since Empire District Electric initiated a quiet title lawsuit attempting to take a citizen's private property overriding a deed that had been on record for 30 years.
To date, the lawsuit has cost Branson taxpayers millions and promises to pay millions more to some of Missouri's top legal counselors.
Peter Rea is a former attorney and Taney County Judge who was disrobed in 1999.
Property Rea sold on Lake Taneycomo is the source of millions spent in litigation for legal services from Missouri's top law firms. Rea's son-in-law is the Chief Financial Officer for HCW. In a sense Rea wins regardless of the outcome of the case.
If the land Rea sold is eventually given to Empire District Electric, they have promised Branson will have the property. If Branson gains ownership through Empire, HCW continues development through a contract with the city and the assets benefit Rea's heir.
Prior to the current Branson Landing property dispute, Rea successfully battled Empire in the early 1970's as an expert in land/title law for a property owner who owned the land Rea eventually acquired and sold to Douglas Coverdell..
In lieu of cash for legal services, Rea accepted payment in the form of land which at the time was perceived to be of little value. The prior owner believed maintaining the property was more work than the land was worth. Rea cleared the peninsula with the help of a brush hog and continued to maintain the property for decades unchallenged. During the 1970's, with Rea's permission, Branson High School held track practice on the land. At one time the land was known as Peter's Point.
Rea's ownership remained unchallenged for 32 years before Branson leaders would plan a multi-use development project which when completed had an estimated value of $450,000,000.
During the planning stages, Branson leaders would quietly begin purchasing property on the Taneycomo shoreline. Some landowners were paid very little, others, aware that Branson was planning a multi-million dollar project received heavy payouts.
Branson leaders would work with Empire District Electric to complete the lakefront project. In order to secure part of the land, Lathrop and Gage, on behalf of Empire would file a quiet title claim against 8 parties on the northern end of the project keeping the property tied up in the courts until the Branson Landing project was complete.
Empire succesfully tied the land in the court system until the project was completed inking side deals with Branson leaders to ensure the project completion. The side deal included a lease for the minimum acceptable amount the court could legally view as consideration - a buck a year to lease prime lakefront acreage..
The case was tied up for several years before Empire dropped their lawsuit after a frustrated judge disallowed any more continuances. After six years of stalling judgement in court the presiding judge demanded the quiet title case go to trial. Empire immediately dimissed their claim overlooking the fact a counterclaim had been filed. The case quickly went to trial and a Taney County jury ruled Empire did not own the land.
Link would work with Empire District Electric's counsel and development firm HCW to complete the Branson Landing.
The project was controversial at the time. Branson's current mayor was attempting to build a version of Minnesota's Mall of America and worked vigorously to sabotage Branson's efforts to develop the Branson Landing project. Sunshine requests made through the current mayor's business partner reveal title issues were creating a problem.
In order to bypass title issues Empire District Electric leased land to the City of Branson on the Taneycomo waterfront for $1 a year. In turn, Branson would lease the property to HCW. The partnership shifted some of Branson's legal exposure to Empire.
HCW principle Rick Huffman negotiated a $50 million tax abatement with Missouri's Governor which ensured the project's green light.
The workaround, a long term dollar a year lease agreement, allowed the city to complete the Branson Landing project without having to settle the land dispute. Ironically, Branson remained a defendant while working with Empire, the Appellate, to acquire the land. At one point all three parties claimed to own the property in dispute.
Over $90 million dollars in loan contracts would represent that the Branson Landing property was not currently in litigation.
John C. Holstein was hired by the City of Branson through one of Missouri's most prominent law firms Polsinelli Shughart. Holstein served 12 years on the Supreme Court of Missouri and as Chief Justice from 1995-1997.
Branson leaders have yet to honor Sunshine Law requests for records of public funds provided for Holstein's services; however, Branson budget reveals $750,000 has been allocated for outside legal counsel this year. Holstein submits bills at an unknown rate.
Holstein entered into the record minutes before a hearing began before the Missouri Southern District Court of Appeals. Speaking on behalf of Branson, Holstein successfully pleaded for judicial activism from the three judge panel to stop execution of a Taney County jury verdict awarding the disputed property to Douglas Coverdell.
Holstein also has the distinction of being Link's father-in-law. While Holstein successfully extended the period of time for the case to be resolved; attorneys close to the case believe he strengthened a parallel case accusing the City of Branson of conspiring with Empire District Electric. Due to the contractual claims that the Branson Landing property was not in dispute, Holstein saved his son-in-law from the potential of serious trouble. On the flip side, if the conspiracy case proves to have merit, the City of Branson may have greater exposure.
Missouri Southern District Court of Appeals Ignores Orgy of Evidence Proving Branson's Awareness of Branson Landing Lawsuit
In 2004, Attorney Brian K. Asberry of Neale and Newman filed a voluntary dismissal of adverse possession claims as a defendant against Empire. The document was filed two years after Empire District Electric sued the City of Branson and Douglas Coverdell to quiet title on land, some of which is now part of the Branson Landing project. In the document above Coverdell's interest is abeled THE BRANSON PAPER INC.
Coverdell claims assert through a chain of title with a legal description that at one point all three parties - Branson, Empire District Electric and Coverdell claim to own. The legal description Branson. Empire and Coverdell claim is illustrated below.
According to the Missouri Southern District court of appeals, Branson's participation in the Branson Landing/North Beach park lawsuit ended in 2004. They further allege Branson wasn't properly noticed.
Provably impossible to argue without a former Supreme Court Justice, the assertion is demonstrably wrong. Legally Branson is in a pickle which colors the case.
Branson has to prove Empire District Electric owns the land (playing Appellant and Defendant) and at the same time haven't plotted with Empire to protect themselves from exposure from a lawsuit that hasn't been discussed in the press.
In a lawsuit separate from the Branson Landing land dispute , Coverdell alleges the City of Branson and Empire District Electric conspired to steal a plot of land he owns on the Taneycomo lakeshore.
The photo posted below this paragraph was shot from a small digital camera during a Taney County Trial where ownership of the title was heard by local citizens. The focus of the jury trial centered around North Beach Park follwing Coverdell's claim to the property through chain of title. On the photo shot Jan 12, 2010 Branson City Attorney Dub Duston and Branson's hired gun Brian K. Asberry listen to pre-trial proceedings at the Taney County Courthouse.
During opening arguments, Coverdell's counsel would mention the city of Branson had legal counsel present. According to the Southern District Court of appeals the mention wasn't enough evidence to prove Branson was aware or participated in the trial; however Branson's Board of Alderman met with Empire District Electric on dozens of occasions and continued to provide funds for legal counsel to assist Branson in the property dispute. Empire District Electric's attorney's promised Branson leaders that they could handle Coverdell. Disputing the adage ignorrance isn't a proper defense; Branson succesfully argued to the Court of Appels that they were uninvolved and unaware of the lawsuit from 2004 to 2010 despite an orgy of evidence contradicting the claim.
Branson proceeded to develop the Lake Taneycomo waterfront raising the property value by millions of dollars. While a long trail of documentation details requests the 38th Circuit court straighten out the property dispute, contracts drafted with the help of Branson City Attorney Paul Link and Mark Fletcher created a workaround. In order to get loans on the Branson Landing property, contracts were signed stating that the property in question wasn't currently in litigation. Bank of America would file with the Missouri Court of Appeals claiming they have a $90 Million interest in the property granted to Coverdell by the Taney County Jury. To put a wrench in the verdict Missouri's Court of Appeals would overstep their usual bounds, recognize that Branson didn't comment during jury selection ( Branson counselors were some of the few people present) and never made any formal motions during trial.
What wasn't addressed was that between 2004 and 2010 Branson would create a new lease with Empire on the property in question, testify no legal action was currently impeding transfer of land, create a Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district as part of a plan to develop the Branson Landing and hold scores of meetings with Empire District Electric and discussing means to workaround the lawsuit.
The two lawsuits, one over land, the other alleging conspiracy are important as winning one cedes favor to a loss in the parallel lawsuit.
North Beach inhabits the most diverse and plentiful fishing grounds, is scattered with trees over a century old shading wild strawberry patches. I've spent much of the last 72 hours fishing her water and surveying the land. After a ruling just released from the court of appeals Branson is well on their way to the Missouri Supreme Court.
They've argued they want to protect the land, however; with their help every tree on the 40 acres of disputed land has bee cut down. This includes a tree which was honored during the United States Bi-Centennial as a Liberty Tree.
Over the past two years it's been an area of personal interest and study. I've briefed the title history since the piece of land was claimed by the United States, talked to locals and attended court hearings as Southwest Missouri's most powerful players fight for control over what was once considered of very little value.
North Beach Park sits on a peninsula adjacent to the Branson Landing development, a project the local newspapers often remind, is a 450 million dollar property that was built a through Tax Increment financing (TIF). Disagreement over ownership tracks back to a time when the multi-million dollar property was worth $500.
Locals attest the property was transferred to defrocked judge Peter H. Rea as a legal expense for defending a property owner against Empire District Electric during legal action that ended in 1972.
Why would anyone grant land to a country attorney who was known to provide counsel in exchange for twenty chickens (seems cheaper than acerage) ? Annual floods submerge the land leaving debris and junglesque overgrowth that was painful to manage. Before the Branson Landing was constructed the peninsula was of very little value, the 40 acres submerged periodically as Lake Taneycomo deemed fit..
The landowner figured it was more trouble to maintain than the property was worth. Rea took a brush-hog to the north part of the peninsula clearing the land enough for the Branson High School track team to conduct practice. For the thirty years ownership would be unchallenged until Empire District Electric filed a suit to quiet title on the land. Several other parties, including the city of Branson were sued by Empire District Electric as well.
As the quiet title suit ensued Empire District Electric, the City of Branson and Coverdell (who purchased the land from a distressed Rea) all claimed the own both the park and nearly 40 acres surrounding the land.
Branson claimed to own the property through adverse possession. Eventually, the city of Branson would voluntary dismiss their claim to the property after Empire promised Branson leaders they "couldn't lose" against Coverdell and promised to give the entire property (and a couple hundred more acres) to Branson for a dollar a year. Branson leaders trusted Empire, after all they had the most powerful law-firm in Missouri to ensure victory.
Ironically, the shamed Peter H Rea's family would prosper from the property no matter who won. Rea, who sold his position to Coverdell, has a son in law who serves as chief financial officer for development company HCW. Before the lawsuit was settled, Branson contracted with HCW to build and manage the Branson Landing. From Empire to Branson to HCW - Rae wins the financial fruits of the property.
Empire's sworn testimony to Branson leaders prompted Branson to pursue the project and let Empire fight off Coverdell. Millions were borrowed from Bear Stearns who sold the note to Banks of America. One of the loans issued a $90 million dollar note holding the property as collateral. Former Branson City Attorney Paul Link inked the property wasn't in current litigation.
The dispute was heard during a ten day trial by a Taney County Jury. Branson's involvement during the jury selection process would come into question before the Missouri Southern District Court of Appeals. Coverdell would argue Branson was listed as a witness to testify, sat as co-counsel, participated in jury selection and had a second attorney appear in the court room audience. Fifty-nine days after the legal time allocated to appeal the jury's verdict city officials pulled a rabbit out of a hat.
Two morals can be derived.
Never underestimate the cost of justice.
Never ever underestimate a father's love.
Former Missouri Supreme Court Justice John Holstein's daughter was Paul Link's bride. Branson leaders allocated $750,000 in outside legal fees much of which was allocated Hostein to halt transfer of land.
Reporters for both the Springfield News-Leader and the Branson Daily News attribute credit to Branson Attorney (one of a dozen with hands on the case) Meadows with representing Branson to the Missouri Southern District Court of appeals this month. Meadows wasn't even present at the trial.
In Baseball terms, Branson sent in Links' father-in-law to pinch hit. Meadows wasn't even at the trial. Holstien entered as representation for Branson minutes before trial, submitted oral arguments and disappeared before the press could cover the courts ruling.
As Missouri's Supreme Court Chief Justice John Holstien proclaimed to the 1997 Missouri Senate and House of Representatives:
"The jury trial has served us well. It is a marriage of the best of our legal system and of democracy"Holstein seemed to disappear from the record except for a brief mention of his last minute appearance on the Missouri Southern District Court of Appeals record.
And while the marriage of our legal system with democracy is a virtuous notion; the marriage between a former Supreme Court Chief Justice and a Branson City attorney have successfully annulled the appearance of unadulterated matrimony.