Politics Blog

Ferndale v. Rojsza: victory up for debate

Used to be, back in the days of hot lead and typesetting, that reporters couldn't really do much if an important source for a story called after deadline.

But now that we've got the Internets, we can enhance stories that have already been published with new information -- or at least another reaction.

My story about Art Rojsza's controversial, towering house on Main Street in Ferndale hit the website last night and hit maybe every tenth or 12th doorstep this morning. It wasn't until this morning that Rojsza's attorney, Pete Dworkin, responded via email to my request for comment. I did hear from the client himself, Rojsza, before deadline, but Dworkin's words put a new emphasis on that camp's position.

Dworkin took issue with the headline that ran in the online version, which labeled the April 7 appeals court decision as a win for the city of Ferndale. We stood by our headline because the appeals court's decision resulted in a dismissal of Rojsza's appeal to Superior Court. (I know, this is all very technical. Refer to the story for details.)

Here's what Dworkin had to say about the case:

The City has spent enormous resources fighting unnecessary legal battles on this permit and has a pattern of prosecuting the Rojszas unjustly (the Rojszas were criminally prosecuted for scores of counts of “nuisance” over political signs they had in their yard). [This was in 2011, when Rojsza's son Norbert ran against Mayor Gary Jensen. --ed.] We have offered to work with the City to resolve the issues, and the only response received was this most recent notice of revocation and violation.  This process is now being started over by the City.  Rather than work with the Rojszas to come to a conclusion, the City has chosen to once again declare the permit “expired” or “revoked” for reasons unsubstantiated by the facts.  This means that we will now have years of litigation ahead.  First, an appeal to the Hearing Examiner, then the losing party to that will likely appeal to Superior Court (LUPA) and the losing party to that will likely appeal to the Court of Appeals.  This will take another three years to resolve.   

As I pointed out to Dworkin in my response, his accusation against the city sounds a lot like what the city says, viz. that Rojsza has unnecessarily prolonged this ordeal by missing city deadlines and failing to follow direction from the Community Development Department.

As for who won the appeals court ruling, even that was fought in court. Dworkin on April 14, one week after the decision, filed an objection to Ferndale's request that it be awarded court costs as the "prevailing party."

"The result of this litigation puts the status of the permit in exactly the place the Rojszas had wanted since they filed their original appeal," Dworkin wrote in his objection. "The Rojszas' permit is ... still in full force and effect. This leads to one inexorable conclusion: the Rojszas are the substantially prevailing party."

That's not the conclusion the city had come to. City spokesman Sam Taylor clarified for me yesterday that the city was not imposing a stop-work order on Rojsza's construction at 2147 Main St. because there is no active permit to stop work on. The permit had expired years ago.

The court ruled on May 15 that neither party prevailed, and it would award neither side court costs. I guess victory remains in the eye of the beholder. The appeals court decision did have one very practical, on-the-ground consequence: it provoked the city to spell out in no uncertain terms that the building permit had been revoked, and on top of that came the city's nuisance violation for the junk in Rojsza's yard.

But then again, I guess "junk" is in the eye of the beholder, too. That's just the city's position. Rojsza can appeal the nuisance order, too.

Click here for the appeals court's April 7 decision.

Here is Dworkin's April 14 objection to Ferndale's request to recover court costs.