Education

Neighbors' lawsuit against Ferentzes will go to trial

Settlement of road repair issue not possible, attorneys say

CEDAR RAPIDS — The neighbors’ lawsuit against UI Football Coach Kirk Ferentz and his wife over road repairs and easement issues will proceed to trial, after settlement talks failed.

The attorneys for each side told a judge Friday it wasn't possible to reach a settlement and asked the court to reset the trial.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Christopher Bruns had ordered the six neighbors and the Ferentzes to appear in court to explain what happened.

The attorneys had informed the court the day before a Feb. 6 trial, scheduled in Johnson County District Court, that they had reached a tentative agreement, but they then failed to dismiss the claims by March 8, a deadline set by Bruns.

During Friday’s hearing, Bruns reminded the attorneys for both sides the 6th Judicial District has a strict policy governing continuances, and litigants are expected to abide by that policy.

He said neither side asked for additional time or informed him of the issue. It appeared, he said, this might be their way of going around court policy.

Adam Tarr, attorney for the Ferentzes’ neighbors, said it wasn’t his intention to “subvert the rules.” The parties, he said, had a tentative settlement Feb. 5 but then key issues couldn’t be resolved.

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Mark Roberts, the Ferentzes’ attorney, agreed, saying it wasn’t his intention to “mislead” the court. He agreed a settlement agreement wasn't possible.

Bruns said he would reset a trial date but reminded both sides of the continuance policy and noted most judges are sensitive about judicial resources.

Bruns said he spent five or so hours reviewing the case for trial and now another judge could possibly be assigned the case and have to spend five or six hours reviewing it.

In civil cases, judges are not specially assigned to cases, meaning more than one judge can hear a case before it reaches trial. In felony criminal cases, one judge follows a case from its beginning to its conclusion.

The Saddle Club Road Homeowners’ Association — John and Ann Marie Buatti, Gary and Becky Watts, Elayne Sexsmith and Fred Page — sued Kirk and Mary Ferentz on March 2, 2016, alleging the couple broke a 2001 contract and are responsible for their share of road repairs, or $9,600, in the rural Johnson County neighborhood near Coralville Lake. The neighbors also claim the Ferentzes’ landscaping violated a neighborhood easement.

The Ferentzes’ house, with an assessed value of about $1 million, was built in 1999, one year after Kirk Ferentz was hired as Iowa’s head football coach.

Kirk Ferentz is the state’s highest paid employee, earning more than $5 million in total compensation for fiscal 2017, state records show.

Shortly after the Ferentzes built their house on the single-lane gravel road, the Buattis proposed subdividing their property for development. The Ferentzes opposed that plan because of privacy concerns, John Buatti testified in a deposition.

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The couples signed an agreement in 2001 saying the Buattis would not sell further parcels and the neighbors, including the Ferentzes, agreed to form a homeowners association, in part to plan for road maintenance.

The Homeowners’ Association was formed in 2015 and members later voted to pay $36,000 to repair Saddle Club Road. The Ferentzes dispute they agreed to be part of the association.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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