ARMOUR, S.D. — A year after it was filed, a South Dakota foreclosure case involving millions of dollars and thousands of nonexistent cattle is awaiting a new judge.
Judge Bruce Anderson, who has handled the case against Robert and Becky Blom since it was filed, recused himself Thursday, Feb. 13, stating the case is so complicated it requires the attention of a judge who has more time.
The foreclosure was filed in Douglas County by First Dakota National Bank on Feb. 8, 2019 and Thursday's hearing was originally scheduled to address payment of liens.
But Anderson disclosed Thursday at the Douglas County Courthouse in Armour that he had learned of two likely conflicts of interest in the case: a First Circuit probation officer is a partial owner of one of the farms involved, and Anderson's wife is related to another person with an interest in the case. He indicated that even if parties agreed to waive those conflicts, he would still recommend reassigning the case to a judge who isn't also juggling full dockets of meth-related cases.
"Every single judge out there is overwhelmed," Anderson said Thursday. "... This case has to have a referee: someone who has extra time on their hands."
Anderson's proposed solution was to assign retired Third Circuit Judge Tim Tucker, who would become available in April and reportedly indicated to Anderson he would be willing to take on the case for $150 per hour, as doing so would cut into his private mitigation practice. Those costs would not be covered by the state's judicial system, and Anderson said if they were split evenly between all parties involved in the case, it would cost about $3.60 per party per hour.
Anderson said with the state's current budget, it might not be feasible for the state to cover the cost of a referee, and that hourly costs may need to be spread out over multiple years to make the necessary payments.
"That's a lot of money that the budget doesn't have," Anderson said.
After parties were given time to discuss what to do, attorney Bill Taylor asked Anderson to instead request South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson to appoint a new judge, which would cost $62 per hour and would be paid for by the state. Taylor said most of those involved in the case are involved because they've already lost a significant amount of money to the Bloms and expect to get just pennies of each dollar they're owned.
As of last March, the investigation by receiver Lew Dirks found that people had reported contracting with Robert Blom for a total of nearly 33,000 head of cattle, and fewer than 5,500 actual animals had been accounted for. Dirks said Blom sold some cattle as many as seven times over.
The foreclosure case is one of four cases filed in the past year that involve Blom. On Sept. 16, Blom pleaded guilty in a North Dakota court to issuing a check without sufficient funds. He was sentenced to five years in prison with all but 180 days suspended for writing a North Dakota cattle buyer a bad check for $134,837.14, and he was ordered to pay that amount in restitution. If he sticks to the $275-per-month payment plan set out at sentencing, it will take Blom more than 40 years to pay back that full amount.
In July, Blom was charged with writing another bad check to an Alpena, S.D., man on Jan. 23, 2019, for $105,722.43. He has not yet appeared in court to address the Class 3 felony charge of grand theft by an insufficient funds check, for which he could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
On Dec. 19, a Selby farmer filed a civil complaint in Douglas County against Blom, Frontier Land and Cattle LLC, Marion Rus and Donald Stange. Rus and Stange, according to the complaint, hold ownership interest in Frontier Land and Cattle and are also both named as interested parties in the foreclosure case.
That complaint, filed by Lauren D. Russell, alleges that the defendants conspired in February 2019 to sell 138 head of cattle that Russell had delivered to a feedlot operated by Blom and had expected to receive profit from when they were sold. Instead, according to the complaint, the cattle were shipped to Nebraska and sold under Frontier Land and Cattle's name, and Russell has not received payment for the sale. Russell has alleged damages in excess of $387,400.50.
First Dakota National Bank has asserted that Blom owed a principal amount of $6.7 million, plus accruing interest. To date, Blom has not appeared in court during any hearing in the foreclosure case.