Parties on both sides of a lawsuit over the Republican House at 303 Blackburn St., which has delayed plans for a Boys & Girls Club in Ripon, would like the case to come to a conclusion sooner rather than later, according to recent court filings.
However, an application by both parties for specific judicial assignment that cited “congestion” in the court, and would have transferred the case to another judge, was denied on Oct. 19 by Supreme Court of Wisconsin District Court Administrator Jon Bellows.
Since June, Ripon resident Dan Zimmerman, who has been caretaker of the Republican House for the last seven years, and property owner William MacLeod have been antagonists in Fond du Lac County Circuit Court over whether Zimmerman has a claim to the property.
MacLeod has a signed contract with the Boys & Girls Club of the Tri-County Area to sell the property, which will be razed to build a state-of-the-art complex for its Ripon site with a Dec. 30 closing date.
The next scheduled activity in the legal case is a review slated for Thursday, Dec. 16, but if the case doesn’t wrap up before the Dec. 30 closing date, it could jeopardize a portion of the funding for a Boys & Girls Club in Ripon.
That’s according to an Oct. 15 letter from lawyer Jeremy Vanderloop, who represents the LLC through which MacLeod owns the Republican House, to Judge Dale English.
“I received follow up from the Boys & Girls Club indicating that a half million dollars of county funding may be imperiled if the sale to their organization does not close by deadline,” Vanderloop wrote. “The urgency of the situation requires [the LLC] to accept the offer for recusal in the hopes that another branch is able to hear the matter in time to meet the Dec. 30, 2021 closing deadline.”
In an email, Boys & Girls Club of the Tri-County Area CEO Jason Presto acknowledged the ongoing litigation, which the Boys & Girls Club is not involved in. He said the club is awaiting a resolution to the situation, but does not wish to interfere with the process.
“Our commitment to bring Boys & Girls Club services has not wavered and our leadership team continues to work behind the scenes to prepare for that day,” Presto said. “Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, we don’t know exactly when that day will arrive. However, we want to assure those that are anxiously awaiting our arrival that we remain committed to that goal and are equally as anxious to serve them.”
The litigation began June 16, when MacLeod sued Zimmerman, claiming neither Zimmerman nor his National Republican History Museum Foundation had a legal claim to the Republican House or the LLC through which MacLeod owns the property.
Since that time, both sides have argued their case through court filings.
In an opposing lawsuit filed Aug. 4, Zimmerman alleges he worked hand-in-hand with MacLeod to develop plans for a National Republican History Museum and purchase the property through an LLC.
He also claims to have completed work without pay for the LLC, with the understanding that ownership of the Republican House property would transfer to the National Republican History Museum Foundation when adequate funds had been raised for the museum project.
However, Zimmerman and MacLeod do not have a written agreement and MacLeod is the sole organizer of the LLC.
MacLeod, through litigation, denied any verbal agreement exists between the two parties and questioned how closely both parties worked on the initial development of the museum project.
One day before Vanderloop’s letter to English, on Oct. 14, the LLC filed a motion for permanent injunction approving the sale and for partial summary judgment in favor of MacLeod and the LLC.
Then, on Oct. 15, MacLeod joined the LLC in requesting approval for the sale and a judgement. He asked the court to deny Zimmerman’s claims to the Republican House, declare Zimmerman has no right to the property and prevent Zimmerman from making future claims to the property or the LLC.
In an Oct. 15 brief in support of the motion, MacLeod’s lawyer argued that Zimmerman did not object to the proposed sale until May 28, nor did he claim membership in the LLC.
“Instead, at all material times, Zimmerman conducted his affairs and spoke in a manner consistent with MacLeod being the sole member of [the LLC] and having unilateral authority to sell the property,” MacLeod’s lawyer wrote.
Although Zimmerman said a verbal contract existed between himself and MacLeod, MacLeod argues that “there is no written evidence there was any enforceable agreement between any of the parties requiring the transfer of the former Chinese restaurant to Zimmerman.”
“Since there is no enforceable written contract, there can be no breach of the implied covenant of good faith,” the Oct. 15 brief added.
Prior to the motions for approval of the sale and a summary judgement, an affidavit of Century 21 realtor Joan Karsten was filed on Oct. 7.
In the affidavit, Karsten’s legal counsel said she was approached by Zimmerman in October 2020 to conduct a market analysis of the Republican House.
Karsten’s affidavit noted Zimmerman described himself as “caretaker” of the property as the owner, MacLeod, lived in Washington, D.C.
Karsten had a telephone conference with MacLeod and Zimmerman in November 2020, in which MacLeod said he owned the property and Karsten provided information about the cost to renovate the building.
When the property was listed, the affidavit said MacLeod signed the contract “because he was the owner.”
“It is my ordinary practice as a realtor to have all members of a limited liability company sign a listing contract,” Karsten’s affidavit said. “Mr. Zimmerman had not claimed to be a member and, in fact, told me the owner was MacLeod.”
The affidavit goes on to say that Karsten sent invoices to MacLeod for repairs and showed the property to the Boys & Girls Club in April 2021, before having another telephone conference in May with Zimmerman and MacLeod.
“Zimmerman referenced Turning Point [USA] as a potential buyer of the property during the call,” the affidavit said. “He stated that if Mr. MacLeod did not want his name associated with the sale, he could sell the building to the [National Republican History] Foundation who would then sell it to Turning Point. Mr. MacLeod stated, ‘I’m not comfortable with that.’”
Turning Point USA is a non-profit organization that promotes conservative values on school campuses. Its mission is to “identify, educate, train and organize students to promote freedom,” according to its website.
In the days after the May phone call, Karsten received emails from Turning Point representatives who were interested in submitting an offer, as well as an offer from the Boys & Girls Club, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit added that Zimmerman did not dispute the sale until the original closing date of May 28 when — “just prior to the scheduled closing” — he claimed to be a member of the LLC, “which prevented the sale from closing.”
The sale contract was amended in June to require closing by Dec. 30, per Karsten’s affidavit.
“The title insurer will not proceed to closing without a court order,” the affidavit said. “... The proposed Boys & Girls Club would be a benefit to the city of Ripon. The costs to properly rehabilitate the existing structure would be $2 million.”