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Published December 14, 2010, 09:08 AM

Reporter booted from Grabanski interview

Lawyers and creditors gathered for a few days the week of Dec. 6 in Grand Forks, N.D., to question Grafton, N.D., farmer Tom Grabanski about financial dealings with farms in three states and a grain elevator that some have alleged include misrepresentation and fraud.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

Lawyers and creditors gathered for a few days the week of Dec. 6 in Grand Forks, N.D., to question Grafton, N.D., farmer Tom Grabanski about financial dealings with farms in three states and a grain elevator that some have alleged include misrepresentation and fraud.

Grabanski, his wife, Mari, and the grain company filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July. Their Colorado operations are among plaintiffs who allege the government incorrectly withheld or changed payment rates on a crop insurance program in 2008 in Baca County, Colo., where they farmed.

Allen Flaten, a lawyer for Farm Credit Services AgCountry of Fargo, N.D., with the Zimney Foster P.C. firm in Grand Forks, initially said an Agweek correspondent could sit in on Grabanski’s “Examination 2004” Dec. 8 hearing. Flaten later changed his mind when the reporter showed up, saying others in the room objected.

The examination is a kind of discovery interview, for which U.S. Bankruptcy Judge William A. Hill of Fargo, had granted permission. Flaten told the Agweek reporter Dec. 8, however, that other creditor lawyers in the room had objected to the reporter’s presence for the interviews and that Flaten didn’t want to jeopardize the interview from going forward, as it already had been delayed several times since September, with Grabanski complaining of stress-related illness.

Jack McDonald, a Bismarck, N.D., legal counsel for the North Dakota Newspaper Association, advised Agweek that there is no case law on whether the Examination 2004 interviews are public or private in bankruptcy law. McDonald says that the interviews by private lawyers are recorded by a court reporter, hired by the law firm that hosts the interviews, but those documents won’t become official court documents until a lawyer enters them as evidence in the court. Similar examinations held by a U.S. Trusted for the bankruptcy court would be public. About 15 people attended the Dec. 8 hearing, in Flaten’s offices. One of the parties in the meeting later, on condition of anonymity, says lawyers for various creditors asked the questions. “There are tens of thousands of documents,” the person said. “I think people are fishing at this point, trying to figure out the pieces of a puzzle before they can think about putting them together.”

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