Suing an officer of the court may be a road less traveled but one local descendant of poet Robert Frost is hoping to win a nearly $3 million settlement against a Charlevoix judge.
Former Charlevoix resident Albert Z. Frost began a series of court filings against Charlevoix County 33rd Circuit Judge Richard Pajtas with a suit registered on July 18 in the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan located in Grand Rapids.
In his suit, Frost alleges that Pajtas erred when he ordered both of Frost’s vacation rental homes, property and church to be sold after Frost allegedly violated an agreement detailing the uses of those properties in connection with a suit filed against Frost by two neighbors.
However, in his Aug. 12 response and motion to dismiss, Pajtas denies all of Frost’s nearly three dozen claims of impropriety, citing judicial immunity.
Pajtas cited 15 cases, two statutes and two rules in support of his claim of immunity.
Frost owned two neighboring properties on Lake Charlevoix that he had bought in 1981. Two of his neighbors sued Frost concerning his maintenance and use of the properties, which were used as vacation rentals. According to Pajtas’ response, Frost repeatedly violated the order regarding the use of his properties and, as a result, Pajtas ordered the closure of the Frost rental properties and appointed a receiver who subsequently sold the properties.
Among the 35 causes of action claimed by Frost against Pajtas are:
Violation of Frost’s First, Fourth, Sixth, Eighth and 14th Amendment rights;
Violation of his eminent domain rights and due process rights, and;
Violation of the Civil Rights Act.
Frost also alleges that Pajtas failed to delay the March 2010 trial, failed to recuse himself, closed the Frost rental properties, denied Frost’s request for a court-appointed attorney, disregarded testimony in the July 2011 trial, rushed the July 2011 trial, failed to tell Frost that he could appeal the 2011 decision, refused to grant a retrial, found the Frost properties to be a nuisance and refused a stay of proceedings until an appeal could be heard.
Among Frost’s rather lengthy narratives are accusations that Pajtas was unfit to preside over the case due to illness and an alleged existing bias against neighborhood businesses in general. Frost claimed that Pajtas opposed his former neighbor Norwood Limestone Quarry owner Wayne Wynkoop’s gravel operation and therefore, similarly, opposed the Frost rental properties.
However, Frost admits in his filings that he chose not to direct his attorney to appeal the decision against him because he was confused due to being in “shock” over the ruling.
Frost also claims he did not know he could file an appeal and that he does not remember signing a document waiving his right to appeal.
In his suit, Frost claims his properties had an actual cash value of $2,550,000 but that he only received a check for $50,000 after his property was liquidated by the receiver. He also claims a loss of nearly $500,000 in rental revenue since the business was shuttered, in addition to the loss of priceless Robert Frost family heirlooms which were allegedly stolen during receivership.
In Frost’s latest filing—dated Aug. 29—he answers Pajtas responses to the original filing and agrees to drop the lawsuit if requests to appeal both court decisions of 2010 and 2011 are granted.
“In the 2010 trial, judge Pajtas illegally entered a plaintiff unrequested charge of ‘nuisance’ and he stopped all rentals at my two hand-built vacation homes effective Dec. 30, 2010,” Frost stated in his filing. “I did enter an appeal of that action by the judge but that appeal was never heard because, in the July 2011 decision, the judge took possession of my two homes—just nine weeks before that appeal was to be heard—and … judge Pajtas ordered them into a receivership to be quickly sold.”
According to Pajtas’ motion to dismiss, “The United States Supreme Court has long recognized that, ‘although unfairness and injustice to a litigant may result on occasion,’ a ‘judicial officer, in exercising the authority vested in him, shall be free to act upon his own convictions, without apprehension of personal consequences to himself.’”
It stated further in the motion that, in order that judges execute their duties without fear of personal consequences, they are entitled to “absolute judicial immunity from … civil suits” as well as monetary damages.
Pajtas’ motion closed by citing that all of his actions in the Frost cases fell within his official judicial capacity.
The issue of whether the case will be dismissed or go forward now awaits a federal judge’s opinion on the matter.