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Trials & Litigation

Montana Judge Rules After 24 Years in Forgotten Case

Posted Jul 2, 2009 11:06 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A retired Montana judge issued a ruling this week in a case apparently put on hold in 1985 when he was diagnosed with cancer.

On Monday, former District Judge Ronald McPhillips of Toole County ruled against the plaintiff, who had contended his partner swindled him out of his share of natural gas revenue, the Great Falls Tribune reports. McPhillips told the newspaper he was searching his home for the case file after the newspaper wrote about the unresolved dispute.

Elda Nichols, who had worked for McPhillips before his retirement in 1994, told the newspaper she thinks her former boss discovered the case file in an old briefcase in his home, and made the ruling based on his “copious notes,” taken during a bench trial.

McPhillips ruled after the Montana Supreme Court said he could proceed, the story says.

Nichols told the Great Falls Tribune in a prior story that the problem was due to McPhillips’ illness.

"My recollection is that Judge McPhillips ended up resigning because of a malignant tumor the size of a football on his hip," she said. "He got very ill, and my recollection is that he took that file home to do a ruling on it."

Clerk of Court Sandy Peers told the newspaper that the lawyers in the case were supposed to make proposed findings of law, "but it never shows that was done."

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