Published On: Thu, Mar 27th, 2008

Freeholding case will go to Supreme Court

HARTINGTON  — Nebraska’s highest court will have the final say in a Cedar County Freeholding Court case that has drug on for several years, now.
The Freeholding issue, which has plagued the Wynot School District since 2006, will bypass the Nebraska Court of Appeals in favor of a direct decision at the Supreme Court level.
In the Petition to Bypass, Attorney Dave Domina said the case is of significant public interest in northeast Nebraska.

“More than 250 parcels of real estate, owned by more than 400 persons are involved. Two school districts and the process of redefining school boundaries are involved as well,” Domina declared in the petition, which was filed several months ago.
Domina represents several appellants from the Wynot School District who appealed the results of the action taken by the Cedar County Freeholding Board at three meetings along with two District Court decisions.
A combination of the Wynot School enrollment and a vote to override the maximum amount allowed for the school levy triggered by a state statute allowed landowners in the Wynot District to file Freeholding petitions.
The Omaha attorney contends the state statute was poorly written and does not adequately apply to this situation.
Both Domina and Cedar County District Judge William Binkard have said the issues in the case are very complex.
An avalanche of Freeholding petitions were filed in 2006 asking to have land transferred out of the Wynot District into the adjoining Hartington School District. At that time the Hartington district had a much lower tax rate or levy.
The Freeholding saga has included several starts and stops, a do-over by the Freeholding Board, which includes the County Assessor, Clerk and Treasurer, and the filing of appeals in District Court.
In a 17-page order with an attachment consisting of 19 pages, which were handed down in District Court in July 2007, Binkard ruled the majority of the land should have been transferred into the Hartington School District.
Binkard also allowed the tax money in an amount close to $100,000, which had been held in an escrow account, to be dispersed between the Hartington and Wynot School districts.
Domina said the appeal will be decided on the record made at the trial in Hartington.
“The case turns on legal issues,” said Domina. “It really brings the issues down to sword points and highlights that the court must decide.”

Oral arguments will probably occur in late summer or early autumn, Domina said.
“A decision may be out near the end of this year,” Domina said.
In this dispute, as in most, the winner takes the spoils he said.