Wednesday’s Iowa Court of Appeals decision on the Larry Clabaugh case was a welcome result. It needs to be the last word.
Clabaugh, to review, has been fighting the city on a laundry list of citations for property he owns in Ottumwa. He didn’t show up for his first trial, resulting in a default verdict in the city’s favor.
When Clabaugh appealed, the court accepted his attorney’s excuse about the first trial and granted him another try. Clabaugh delayed, dodged and ducked right up to the day the trial was scheduled to begin. When the trial arrived, he demanded another delay and walked out when the court balked. Again, it resulted in a default verdict. Again, Clabaugh appealed.
The appeals court left no question about its view of the case. It found that the district court “was right to doubt the credibility of Clabaugh’s assertion he could not stay in the courtroom until the city called a single witness.” It ripped the argument that Clabaugh was treated unfairly despite being warned multiple times that storming out would result in another default judgement.
And we do not forget Clabaugh’s attempt to hijack the elections themselves during this. His ill-fated attempt to run for mayor was properly turned aside given that he does not live in Ottumwa. While citizens do have the right to seek public office and influence policy, that would be an extremely charitable interpretation of his actions.
Clabaugh’s behavior in the case speaks for itself. The city was right in its actions, and the courts have agreed every time. You cannot insist that city ordinances don’t apply to you. You cannot dictate to the courts when you will comply with instructions. Our system is based in large part on the courts being neutral arbiters, and thumbing your nose at proceedings is an affront to that critical role.
There can be little excuse for how this process dragged out. This is the third time the courts have upheld the city’s citations and right to enforce compliance with city ordinances.
Unfortunately, neighbors have been caught in the crossfire. Clabaugh’s actions have significantly reduced the visual appeal of his property. That has an effect on the area.
The effects underscore the reality that a community really does depend on everyone’s actions. We have an effect on our neighbors when we plant or cut down a tree, or with how we decide to handle landscaping. Even the most basic of acts — mowing the lawn — makes a difference in how neighborhoods are perceived.
The state’s appeals court made the right decision with regard to Clabaugh and his efforts to get a third bite at the apple. Siding with him would have rewarded the previous shenanigans, and we’re pleased to see the court rule as it did.