LOGAN – A Hocking County man who’s being sued by a company that runs an adventure park on state Route 664 has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to disqualify Hocking County Common Pleas Judge John T. Wallace from hearing the matter. He argues that Wallace’s actions so far in the case have shown that he may be biased in favor of the plaintiff.
As reported in The Logan Daily News on April 3, the Canal Winchester, Ohio-based company Eventuresencore, Inc., sued Logan resident Mark Anthony on March 4 in Hocking County Common Pleas Court. The complaint alleged that Anthony, who had done some construction work on the site for the company, had begun trying to sabotage the park and keep it from opening for business. The News then reported on May 15 that Judge Wallace had issued a restraining order barring Anthony from entering the property or interfering with the operation of the business.
In an affidavit of disqualification submitted to the state supreme court May 28, Anthony maintains that Wallace’s rulings in the case give the impression that Anthony “will not get a fair and impartial hearing upon the merits (of the case) given the underlying factual issues that are in dispute which have seemingly already been decided by Judge Wallace without Mark Anthony’s participation in any hearing.”
Actions by Wallace that cause him concern, Anthony says, include issuing a temporary restraining order to bar him from the Ultimate Zipline Adventures Park on 664 South, followed by an extension of the 14-day order. Anthony complains that these orders were issued despite his having attended no court hearing on the matter, and he adds that the orders have effectively evicted him from his own home, which is located on part of the park site.
Anthony is also party to another lawsuit, tangentially related to Eventuresencore’s suit but dating back to 2013, which has been litigated in Hocking County Common Pleas Court and Ohio’s 4th District Court of Appeals, and isn’t yet fully resolved. Among other parties, that suit pits Anthony against plaintiff Karry Gemmell, who was once Anthony’s business partner in a previous outdoor recreation park at the Route 664 site. The lawsuit is essentially over conflicting money claims between Anthony and Gemmell, stemming from the termination of Hocking Peaks, LLC, the company they formed in 2010 to operate the now-defunct Hocking Peaks Adventure Park.
One relevance of the earlier lawsuit to Eventuresencore’s suit is that according to Anthony’s affidavit, developments in the first lawsuit appear to have generated competing lease arrangements applying to the 142-acre Route 664 property. Hocking Peaks did not own the park site when the park was in business; the land was owned by M&T Property Investments, Ltd., Anthony’s company. Hocking Peaks signed a five-year lease to use the property, which expired in March 2015 and was not renewed.
Both the land and the Hocking Peaks company have reportedly gone into receivership – though separately.
In August 2019, with the site facing foreclosure by a mortgage lender, M&T transferred ownership of the property to a Florida company, Evergreen Site Holdings. (Gemmell has alleged that this was a fraudulent “insider” deal meant to render M&T insolvent, so it could avoid having to pay Gemmell a money settlement; Evergreen denies this.) In May 2020, Eventuresencore signed a lease with Evergreen, as part of its plan to use the site to run a new adventure park business, Ultimate Zipline Adventures. In that lease, Anthony says, part of the 142-acre site was “specifically excluded” and not leased to Eventuresencore – including the portion of the site where Anthony’s personal residence is located.
In the second half of 2020 Anthony and Eventuresencore got into a dispute over how much the company owed Anthony for work he had done to prepare the site to open for business, and over who owned “certain personal property” on the site.
Eventuresencore filed its suit against Anthony on March 4. Just five days later, according to Anthony’s affidavit, the company signed a different lease, this one with Reg Martin, a man who had been appointed in 2014 as receiver for the defunct Hocking Peaks company – though not for the park site land. According to Anthony, the signing of this second lease created two competing leases applying to the same piece of property. The newer lease did not exempt the part of the site where Anthony lives.
Anthony disputes the legitimacy of the later lease with Martin, maintaining that Eventuresencore was already legally bound by the earlier lease with Evergreen, and that Martin cannot lease land he doesn’t own.
On March 31 of this year, however, according to Anthony, Judge Wallace made a ruling in the 2013 Gemmell lawsuit, approving the lease with Martin as “a valid exercise of the receiver’s authority.” By doing so, Anthony maintains, the judge actually created a legal conflict that he will now be responsible for deciding, as Eventuresencore has since asked the court for a declaratory judgment on which of the two leases is the valid one.
Anthony also cites in his affidavit the news coverage of the litigation and Wallace’s decisions by The Logan Daily News, which has published two articles on the Eveturesencores lawsuit. He notes that the paper has reported Wallace’s judgment entry in which the judge found that Anthony had impeded operations of the zipline park by “stealing property, compiling trash, blocking access, and removing fixtures.” The fact that these articles can easily be found and accessed online, he says, “further undermines the public confidence in the judicial process because the alleged facts have been decided against me, yet there have been no hearings on these issues.”
Anthony also claims that Wallace’s restraining order barring him from the park site – which include a directive that the order may be enforced by the county sheriff – has evicted him from his home of 16 years, and separated him from his family.
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