Further delays in Town of Burns v. The Rustic Plate

Nov. 20—CHEYENNE — A Monday hearing that was supposed to decide whether a Burns restaurant will evicted by the town was delayed until next month.

Ashley Osterman, owner of The Rustic Plate, was informed on Oct. 8 that she was to remove her restaurant from the town-owned property after a contract dispute with the Town of Burns. The town sued her for refusing to leave, and she sued the town for not providing her with the contract she said she was promised.

An initial Oct. 26 hearing was pushed back to Nov. 2 for a three-hour hearing. That turned into a four-hour hearing, and still wasn't enough time for all the witnesses to testify. The hearing on Monday was expected to provide closure for the conflict, but was once again delayed.

"I am beyond reluctant to grant a continuance," Circuit Judge Tom Lee said.

Bruce Asay, representing The Rustic Plate, filed for the continuance Monday morning, before the hearing, upon learning that Burns Mayor James Clark would be unable to attend.

Clark was subpoenaed to attend the trial and was there at the Nov. 2 hearing. However, he was never able to testify then, since the hearing went on too long. On Monday, Clark was unable to attend and testify as a witness. Asay requested the extension because he said he believed the mayor's testimony would be essential to the defendant's case.

First, Clark would be able to address Osterman's claims of being promised a different contract from what the town approved and offered her. Second, Asay said, Clark would be asked to confirm the claims of the master of the Burns Masonic Lodge, Bill Arnold, from the previous hearing. There, Arnold testified that he was provided and signed the paperwork that would remove a clause from Osterman's lease.

That clause designated the property as a community center and is the reason for this dispute. Once signed, the documents were only pending town approval to remove the clause. Asay wanted to confirm with Clark that he was informed these documents were signed. The documents were signed by Arnold on Sept. 26, before Osterman was ordered to leave the property.

Greg Hacker, the attorney representing the Town of Burns, said that the plaintiffs were prepared to proceed without Clark present, but Judge Lee hesitantly sided with the request of The Rustic Plate.

"The Town of Burns does have a right to Forcible Entry and Detainer statutes," Lee said. "On the other hand, Mr. Hacker, we try to give people an opportunity to put their interests forward."

After this decision, Asay noted that Osterman is willing to pay the Town of Burns rent for the property she has been occupying without a lease from September to December.

Hacker said the town would accept this payment, but wanted to be sure this would not hurt his client's case.

"We will accept the money as long as it doesn't jeopardize our legal position," he said.

Lee assured Hacker that it would not jeopardize or compromise any of the town's claims. Upon the plaintiff's request, Lee also ordered only half of December's rent be paid so that the town may reoccupy the property immediately after the hearing, if the eviction is upheld. However, the judge said that, regardless of how he rules on Dec. 14, the defendant will likely be able to occupy the property through the end of the month.

Osterman has 24 hours to pay three-and-a-half months of rent, totaling around $1,850.

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Noah Zahn is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's local government/business reporter. He can be reached at 307-633-3128 or nzahn@wyomingnews.com. Follow him on X @NoahZahnn.