Judge strips LCHS of power, appoints a Receiver

By: 
Wade Young

Judge Mark Vandelist has had enough of Le Sueur County Historical Society (LCHS).

Vandelist, who is overseeing the lawsuit between several plaintiffs and LCHS, slammed the society on Wednesday because it failed to follow his orders. He appointed a high profile attorney from Minneapolis as a Receiver to take control of the society, right the course and make sure the society does as he orders.

The decision came at a hearing specifically for board members, Jenifer Morsching, Donna Morsching and Evelyn Fierst. Vandelist wanted them to explain why they shouldn’t be held in contempt of court for their failure to abide by the court’s orders.

None of the board members appeared at the hearing.

Vandelist asked why they weren’t present as ordered. LCHS attorney, Quentin Wittrock, who appeared instead of the attorney of record, Ray Konz, offered excuses for the board members’ absences. He said Jenifer Morsching was ill. (Note: She had appeared at an arbitration hearing two days prior in Shakopee.) Donna Morsching was unable to get time off work, and Evelyn Fierst, “chose not to come,” he stated.

Vandelist then reviewed for the counsel, LCHS executive director Kathy Burns who was seated next to Wittrock, and a crowd of more than 25 spectators in the courtroom, his explicit orders dated November 8, 2018, which called for LCHS to turn over all of its books and records. He said the timeframes were set on purpose. He expressed his frustration.

“I’m concerned that we’re about four months down the road and this still isn’t accomplished,” Vandelist stated. “There is still a whole bunch of missing stuff. Why?”

Despite multiple extensions, Wittrock admitted that very few records have been turned over in a timely fashion and that the society is struggling to process the documents.

“We are endeavoring to abide by the order,” he stated, but then offered as an excuse, “LCHS is a small group, of basically one person (Burns) to take care of protecting the properties, dealing with litigation and membership issues. It is grant writing season and they are planning for the summer programs. And our priorities are to get ready for the annual meeting.”

Wetherille, the plaintiffs’ attorney, wasn’t having any of that.

“It may be a small society, but it (their legal representation) is a very large law firm and they are guilty of not sending unredacted records,” he stated. “This goes beyond LCHS and nonfeasance. It has gone to malfeasance.”

In addition to the board members and their attorney not appearing in court as ordered, Vandelist was concerned about the money LCHS has paid the Special Master he assigned to the case to move it forward.

“It concerns be that this organization has spent $12,000 over these documents,” he stated.

The judge also appeared upset at Konz’s earlier assertion that Vandelist was not able to force the society to allow its members to review records.

“I’m the legal authority. I wear the robe,” Vandelist stated. “In 35 years, I have never seen a lawyer writer a letter saying there’s no legal authority for a judge to force a reviewal. This deeply concerns me.”

The Receiver is Robert T. Kugler of Stinson Leonard Street LLP out of Minneapolis. He is the lead counsel in the bankruptcy case against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and he served as a counsel in the Petters Warehouse bankruptcy case.

According to the order, Kugler has the complete control over all of the society’s assets, monies, securities and properties (real or personal), investments, bank accounts, books and records, and mail… etc.

The Receiver also has the power to use the sheriff’s department to seize all documents and records, including electronically stored information. The order also authorizes the sheriff to break open any building, including private homes to retrieve LCHS assets.

See more in the print edition.

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