By Allen Edmonds
HARRISONVILLE -- After more than four years of bouncing around the local court system, the most complicated disorderly conduct case in Cass County judicial history will remain on life support - this time at the request of the defendant, Lori O'Malley.
The Raymore business owner was charged following a disturbance between her and the owner of a closed restaurant that had been leasing space in her facility, Freedom Stop.
She was found guilty in Raymore Municipal Court and immediately appealed to Cass County Associate Circuit Court. After a few preliminary hearings, Associate Circuit Judge Dan Olsen dismissed the charge, but the City of Raymore appealed to the Western District Court of Appeals, which reinstated the charge and sent the case back to Olsen to hear.
Trial had been set for last Monday, but was delayed by the blizzard that hit the area the night before. It was rescheduled for today, but Olsen granted another delay at O'Malley's request.
O'Malley said today that information disclosed by Raymore Prosecuting Attorney Bill Marshall in a Dec. 3 hearing caused her to realize she needed trial testimony from two witnesses that had previously been deposed. One of those witnesses has since moved to another state, so will need to travel back to Cass County for trial.
In an additional twist, Olsen is retiring from the bench, effective Friday. So the case is being sent to Presiding Circuit Judge Bill Collins for reassignment. O'Malley is also rehiring her original attorney in the case, Lyle Gregory. Gregory is handling her civil case against the City in U.S. District Court, and O'Malley had felt she could handle the misdemeanor criminal case on her own. But with the new evidence, she decided to bring Gregory back on board.
So, the most awaited misdemeanor trial in recent memory gets set aside once more. We'll keep you posted.
HARRISONVILLE -- As another Monday looms in North Cass, there’s suddenly a bit of uncertainty regarding one of the most eagerly awaited trials of the past several years. No, of course I’m not referring to the Kylr Yust case, where the former federal prisoner is accused of kidnapping and killing 17-year-old Kara Kopetsky more than a decade ago, then dumping her body in a wooded area south of Belton – where it decomposed for over a decade.
After a prison stint for an unconnected case, Yust was placed by witnesses in the company of Jessica Runions, a young bakery employee at Foxwood Springs. He left a party with her. But hours later, Runinons' vehicle was found burned on a deserted section of Blue River Road in South Kansas City. And yes, the winding, curving Blue River Road, with its plethora of poorly supervised roadside parks and properties, makes for an outstanding place to eliminate evidence.
Jessica’s decomposed body was found in the same wooded area south of Belton on State Route Y, a curvy, hilly section of road surrounded by thick woods that tend to shoot off an aura of foreboding.
But the Yust case is still the better part of a year away, and we need to be thankful for that. Prosecuting Attorney Ben Butler has just been re-elected, and he’s going to need every day of this year to nail down a conviction - a conviction that won’t bring back the lives of Kara Kopetksy or Jessica Runions, but is a minimum requirement to avoid a level of political and judicial chaos I can’t imagine. The anger would be like nothing we’ve seen before.
Now that I’ve, for the first time, addressed what should be our expectations on a case that’s nearly a year out, I want to talk about today – a far less consequential case, but one that has stirred up emotions and anger, it has caused the City of Raymore to expend significant resources over the years to prove its disorderly conduct charge against Freedom Stop owner Lori O’Malley.
O’Malley was found guilty of the charge years ago by Municipal Judge Ross Nigro in connection with a scuffle outside a restaurant space she had leased out. The lease was not working, and Oliver’s Pizza was in the process of moving out. However, O’Malley had noticed significant damage being done to the structure of her property as the lessees pulled equipment from the walls and cabinets.
She locked the property to keep the lessees from doing any more damage until some type of supervision could be acquired, but the next day, the lessees returned, with Raymore Police in tow, demanding to be let in. Raymore officers required the doors to be opened so the lessee could retrieve his equipment, but the rough treatment of her property continued – even under the eyes of the police.
After some jostling at the door of the business, officers deemed it wise to shut down the operation, and of course, the extra bumping and pushing don’t fly any better in that situation than they do on an NFL field on a Sunday afternoon.
So there were charges, starting with assault against both parties, but finally ending up with only disorderly conduct against O’Malley. Due to rules of evidence, if O’Malley chooses to exercise her right not to testify against herself, it also eliminates any evidence she could give against her lessee to prove his assault charge.
So, it's back to just Lori O’Malley, facing a $500 disorderly conduct charge that she doesn’t believe is fair and won’t willingly accept.
The municipal judge who found her guilty in the first place, Ross Nigro, was on the first night of his contract with the City of Raymore when the case was heard, and he was more than willing to do whatever was necessary to simply move the case to the circuit level once he found out O’Malley was ready to appeal should she lose.
It took Nigro off the hook, as well as Raymore Prosecuting Attorney Bill Marshall, who could plan for more formal proceedings in front of the Associate Circuit Court, and a misdemeanor jury.
So, after an abbreviated hearing of the evidence, Nigro pronounced O’Malley guilty and acknowledged her intent to appeal to the next level.
The next level, however, had its own surprises in store. Associate Circuit Judge Dan Olsen, who retires at the end of this month, and who was once a Raymore Municipal Judge, took one look at the facts of the case and rejected it. Flat. With no accompanying reasoning. In his opinion, it simply had no business being tried in a court of law. Win for O’Malley, right?
Not so fast. Raymore City Hall was livid. Clearly, that $500 payment from O’Malley was a statement too precious to walk away from - possibly in light of the civil case O'Malley has pending in federal court against the City of Raymore.
So city fathers hired an outside law firm to appeal Olsen’s dismissal of the disorderly conduct charge and prove that without a specific and steel-encased reason, that the long-time, highly respected jurist had committed incompetence at the high level. And money was spent to accomplish that end.
The briefs filed were meticulous, fit for the great legal minds of the Western District Court of Appeals – a body that determines life and death issues as a matter of course. A group of judges that with a stroke of a pen can put a halt to a downtown Kansas City development, or could determine desegregation issues where they still need attention.
But the City of Raymore graciously funded with citizens’ tax dollars a neat little experiment showing that same court could also pay attention for long enough to rule that Associate Circuit Judge Dan Olsen does in fact need to hear O’Malley’s case, and maybe if the jury finds her guilty, fine her up to $500.
So, after all this time, more than four years since that Saturday afternoon of Sept. 14, 2014, trial is finally set.
It was set for a Monday morning two weeks ago, but blizzard conditions caused everything to be stopped in its tracks as the courthouse closed for the day.
Today, it is set to begin at 8:30 a.m. in Associate Circuit Judge Daniel Olsen’s courtroom. But wait. A Motion for Continuance was filed on Thursday by the defense. What could that mean?
We’ll keep you posted throughout the day Monday.