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In Minnesota, a Big Fight Over a Little Gravel Road ... and Other Legal News You May Have Missed

By Richard Dahl | Last updated on

A judge ruled that a township board in Minnesota can't burden a family living on the end of a township road by not maintaining it.

This may not sound like earthshaking news, but in Minnesota, the plight of the Crisman family in its legal fight with Hillman Township has captured broad public attention as a class quarrel between entrenched locals and newly arrived outsiders.

The dispute started in 2017, after the Crisman family decided to leave the metropolitan Twin Cities and live in the country. They built a home on property they purchased at the end of a half-mile-long gravel road in Hillman Township outside the town of Mora.

Even though the road appeared to be under its jurisdiction, the township board told the Crismans the road technically no longer exists. Because the property they purchased had been unoccupied for years, there was no need to maintain it.

Even though the Crismans spent thousands of dollars to repair the road and build a school-bus turnaround, the board would not budge when the Crismans appealed for service. The township's electors took a vote and said no.

The board cited a state law that says that if a township doesn't "perfect its interest in a right of way" within 40 years, the road reverts to the owner of the land it is on. In this case that is Danny Schmoll, a former Hillman Township supervisor, who told the Minneapolis Star Tribune he just doesn't like the Crismans' attitude. "They have a thing that they're way better and smarter than everybody else," he said.

But on Nov. 11, Kanabec County District Judge Stoney Hiljus issued a ruling calling the township's decision "unreasonable and absurd."

"Not maintaining just the last quarter mile knowing that a family is living on the property is unreasonable and cannot be what the legislative scheme anticipated," Hiljus wrote. "Nowhere in [state law] does it state that an electorate may vote to discontinue maintenance of only a portion of a road."

Meanwhile, the Hillman Township Board apparently is not ready to throw in the towel and is weighing legal options.

Might a Civil Trial Loom for Rittenhouse?

Could Kyle Rittenhouse still face civil penalties despite his acquittal of criminal charges in the Kenosha, Wisconsin, shooting deaths?

It would not appear that an 18-year-old online college student would have deep enough pockets to pay for any awards should he lose a civil trial. But as NBC News points out, Rittenhouse was a prodigious fundraiser, raising more than $2 million for his legal defense. This makes him a more attractive target for a civil lawsuit.

"He's a public figure now, and money might come in," Ion Meyn, who teaches law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told NBC News. "I'm not convinced there's nothing there."

Rory Little, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law, also pointed out that in a civil case a plaintiff only needs to prove negligence. That's a much lower hurdle than the "reasonable doubt" standard that criminal prosecutors must reach.

While Rittenhouse could tell a jury in a civil trial that he didn't intend to kill anyone, "The jury could still say, 'We didn't think the average person would do what you did. If your conduct is judged to be less than that, you lose,'" Little said.

SCOTUS Favors Tennessee Over Mississippi in Groundwater Dispute

In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Mississippi's attempts to get damages from Tennessee for pumping water from an aquifer between both states.

The court ruled in its Nov. 22 opinion that it should divide up the water between the states through a process known as "equitable apportionment." This is a process often used by states to resolve disputes involving above-ground water supplies, but the ruling is the first time it is being applied to an aquifer.

Missouri City Charged With Using Traffic Violations as Revenue Generator

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit against the city of Moscow Mills, accusing the municipality and its police of "flagrantly violating" a state law that prohibits traffic quotas.

The suit alleges that Police Chief Terry Foster, "on behalf of the City of Moscow Mills," ordered the traffic officer to write at least 160 traffic citations per month to bring in $160,000 in revenue, assuming each citation would average $100.

"Missourians should not be treated as cash cows to fill municipal coffers," Schmitt added in a statement.

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