Clabaugh House

A “Sold” sign marks the former Larry Clabaugh property at 2420 N. Court St. in Ottumwa. It was at the center of a years-long dispute between Clabaugh and the city. Public land transfer records dated Aug. 31 indicate the property has been sold.

OTTUMWA — The property that sparked the dispute between Larry Clabaugh and the city of Ottumwa has been sold.

The dispute over the property goes back more than three years. In March 2017, the city council voted to enforce city codes at Clabaugh’s property in the 2400 block of North Court Street. Violations included building a fence prior to being granted permits, placing a gate across city property and storing more than two dozen junk vehicles on the site.

Clabaugh countered by saying he had plans for a major estate auction involving hundreds of vehicles at the site. However, then-City Attorney Joni Keith said his event didn’t qualify for an allowable private property auction.

The dispute went to court, with the city filing for an injunction and declaratory order to force Clabaugh to remove the fence, “dumped cement, rebar, wood and other materials,” and prohibit storage of the vehicles from Clabaugh Enterprise, and Oskaloosa-based business, at the residential site. Clabaugh disputed, saying the vehicles were his property and questioned whether the city had authority to prevent them from being kept on the site.

A consent order was issued in late April. It did not include any admission of wrongdoing by any party, but it did put city prosecutions for alleged code violations on hold pending the lawsuit while also prohibiting Clabaugh from storing junked cars on the property and from building a fence, depositing fill or holding an estate sale without permission.

Clabaugh then took to city politics by filing to run for mayor. However, his candidacy was disputed with questions over whether he actually lived at the property as well as his voter registration being listed in Mahaska County. Clabaugh was removed from the ballot following a hearing and proceeded to run as a write-in candidate. His candidacy failed in the primary.

In September 2017, the citations against the Clabaugh property were moved to district court, and a trial was scheduled. In a bench hearing where Clabaugh was not present, Judge Randy DeGeest ruled in favor of the city, giving it the right to clean up the property and assess the cost to Clabaugh’s property tax.

He disputed the ruling, claiming recovery from a fall into an uncovered storm sewer in Oskaloosa and the fact the he “was heavily medicated” should excuse his absence from the proceeding. He was granted a new trial in January 2018. In February, the city asked the court to assess the cost of the suit, including attorney fees, to Clabaugh.

The city first sought to depose Clabaugh in May, but his attorney, Andrew Aeilts, said he was unavailable “due to continuing severe medical issues.” Judge Myron Gookin asked for a doctor’s report to back up the claim. No medical records were filed to back up the claim, and Clabaugh failed to show up for multiple depositions.

Weeks later, Aeilts indicated he wanted to end his representation of Clabaugh, saying the relationship with his client had broken down and Clabuagh “has failed to meet his financial obligations” for the attorney’s work and that he has “developed fundamental and significant differences of opinion” in the matter. The court granted Aeilts permission to withdraw in July.

In August, Michael Moreland, attorney for the city, filed an application with the court to hold Clabaugh in contempt, listing numerous citations against Clabaugh for the condition of the property on North Court Street, including three separate sets of citations after the initial case filing in March 2017.

At the same time, Seven DeVolder took over as Clabaugh’s attorney.

In October 2018, Clabaugh’s repeated absence from court depositions cost him, with Judge Crystal Cronk ruling that he had “a responsibility to comply with discovery.” She ordered him to pay reasonable expenses, including attorney fees, for the missed deposition.

According to Courier archives from January 2019, court records showed the case ended with Clabaugh refusing to take part in the rescheduled trial. Judge Greg Milani wrote that the defense left after an oral motion to continue the case was denied.

Clabaugh was found at fault for 23 violations of city code at a cost of $250 apiece, plus $85 in court costs for each violation. The total of fees came to just over $7,700. Milani also granted the city’s motion to have bills for Moreland assessed to Clabaugh, adding another $1,100 to the judgement.

The ruling also allowed the city to abate nuisances at the North Court Street property and submit the costs for those abatements to the court.

Clabaugh was also barred from repeating the infractions that led to the case, including constructing any buildings or fencing, conducting auctions or dumping debris on his property without obtaining permits to do so.

Milani also set an appeal bond of $20,000 in the event Clabaugh chose to appeal the ruling. The following month, Clabaugh appealed the case to the Iowa Supreme Court, asking for the case to be sent to the district court for a third time. It was transferred to the Iowa Court of Appeals.

In June 2020, that court ruled Clabaugh would not get a third trial.

Land transfer documents dated Aug. 31 indicate that the property at 2420 N. Court St. sold to Stephan and Katina Palen for $200,000.

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

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Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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