Students gathered in the Manwaring Center Little Theater and stood up from their chairs in respect as District Judge Stephen S. Dunn, District Judge Robert C. Naftz, Justice G. Richard Bevan and Chief Justice Roger S. Burdick entered the room and took their seats at the front of the stage.
On Monday, May 14, the Idaho Supreme Court visited BYU-Idaho to listen to three court cases in the MC Little Theater. Burdick thanked the college and students prior to the first hearing.
“We always enjoy coming to Rexburg,” he said. “We enjoy the interplay with the students … and the questions are always stimulating and insightful.”
The Supreme Court started off the day by hearing Safaris Unlimited, LLC v. Mike Von Jones, of Twin Falls, Idaho. The docket included appeals from both Jones and his counsel and from Safaris Unlimited, LLC.
According to a summary of the court proceedings in 2017, in November and December of 2012, Jones arranged to hunt big game in Zimbabwe, Africa, with HHK Safaris. Jones went on the hunt and received an invoice for $26,040 from Safaris Unlimited. Jones refused to pay Safaris Unlimited for the hunt, and as a result, Safaris Unlimited filed a lawsuit for breach of contract.
Jones said he had no contractual relationship for payment with Safari Unlimited because he had arranged and engaged in the hunt with HHK, not Safaris Unlimited. He said he was entitled to offset any amount owed for the hunt with the value of certain trophy items from the hunt and an earlier hunt.
The Twin Falls district court, the 5th Judicial District Court of Idaho, decided in favor of Safaris Unlimited and Jones proceeded to appeal to the courts.
Theodore Larsen, counsel for Mike Von Jones and appellant during the hearings, stood up for opening remarks and to make his appeal. Larsen highlighted points during his argument in hopes of swaying the court to overturn the district court’s decision and have a retrial.
Larsen’s first point of appeal highlighted an admission of handwriting during the original court proceedings.
“A licensed professional hunter employed by HHK stated (in an affidavit) that he presented Jones with (the) invoice at the end of the 2012 hunt,” according to court records. “He also claimed that Jones signed the invoice in his presence. Relying on this invoice, Safaris Unlimited argued that Jones was contractually obligated to pay Safaris Unlimited for the hunt.”
During the proceedings, David Gadd, counsel for Safaris Unlimited, brought up at least four examples of signatures from Jones in order to show that Jones signature was in fact on the invoice presented by Safaris Unlimited.
Larsen said Judge Randy J. Stoker had abused Idaho Rules of Evidence Rule 403 which states, “evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.”
Larsen argued that Jones and his counsel were only given six days with exhibit 40, a copy of Jones’ signature, so they did not have time to explain why the signature had been different. Therefore, exhibit 40 was “admitted in error.”
Gadd countered and said he did not believe that exhibit 40 caused any negativity from the jury towards Jones and that the signature from exhibit 40 was relevant. Gadd said all the signatures included as evidence had looked different, so it was important in Jones testifying that exhibit 40 was, in fact, his signature.
Larsen next brought up the questioning of the defendant during the original court proceedings, specifically during the questioning of the defendant about exhibit 40. He concluded that Stoker had overstepped, and the questioning cast Jones in a negative light to the jury.
In his counter, Gadd said that during redaction of the evidence, Jones had admitted that it was, in fact, his signature on exhibit 40. When brought to the stand and questioned by Gadd about whether or not exhibit 40 was his signature, Jones said the signature did not look like his signature but “could have been.”
Gadd said he did not believe that Stoker misstepped in his discretion and that he agrees with the Stoker’s decision to ask Jones to answer the question.
After his counterargument against Jones’ appeal, Gadd and Safari Unlimited counter-appealed in regards to the district court’s decision to vacate a sheriff sale.
Gadd and Safari Unlimited had purchased an asset of Jones’ for $2,500 at a sheriff sale. Though Gadd said Jones and counsel had been notified about the sale, Larsen said otherwise.
The 5th District Court of Idaho determined that the actual value of the asset was unknown and decided to vacate the sale.
Gadd said, according to previous court cases, “sales are only vacated if there are irregularities in the actual sale.” Gadd appealed that the decision be overturned, while Larsen said there should be another sheriff’s sale in place.
After the hearing, Larsen expressed his thoughts on the court proceedings.
“Now we wait for the Supreme Court’s decision that will likely be the final end to this litigation,” Larsen said. “And from there, if we are unsuccessful, we will look at satisfying their judgment. If we are successful, it may ultimately go back for another trial.”
In answer to the counter-appeal by Gadd and Safaris Unlimited, Larsen said, “that issue that they cross-appealed, like I said in my argument, is the most important issue that the court will decide.
“If we are successful, then that’s the end of it,” Larsen said. “If they are successful, it will either be remanded for a judge to reconsider under the direction given by court decision here, or it will potentially be vacated, and my client will have to decide where we go from here.”
Gadd also said he thought the questions from the justices were “on point and well thought out.”
In response to the appeal for the sheriff sale, Gaff said, “I think we have the law on our side on that particular issue, and we’re cautiously optimistic that when a decision comes down from the supreme court that it will be favorable.”