The Associated Press reports that former Toole County Montana Judge Ronald McPhillips made an unexpected comeback this week to issue a surprise ruling in the case of Ayers v. Rubow, a mineral rights suit concerning natural gas royalties.
Judge McPhillips last ruled on the suit in March 1985, holding after a bench trial that he would take the case file to his home for study before issuing a decision.
Unfortunately, following his 1985 decision to take the file home Judge McPhillips developed what a witness described to the Great Falls Tribune as "a malignant tumor the size of a football on his hip," prompting his first retirement. Judge McPhillips ultimately recovered, and yesterday issued his long-awaited decision, holding that the plaintiff had not proven his case, and should recover nothing from the defendant.
Records are sketchy as to what had happened over the intervening 24 years in the case, but a source within the court speculated, "I think he [Judge McPhillips] found it [the case file] in an old briefcase he had at home." Upon locating the file, guidance was sought from the Montana Supreme Court, which suggested that if Judge McPhillips still remembered the case, he could make a ruling. As it turned out, the Judge had taken what he described as "extensive notes," and was able to issue a decision.
William Conklin, the attorney for Ayers, expressed his disappointment in the ruling and his confidence that Ayers would prevail on appeal, adding that he "remembered part of the case" and was sure that evidence had been presented, and possibly arguments. The attorney for the victorious defendant Rubow had no comment, as it is uncertain whether he or she is alive.
Under the Montana Rules of Appellate Procedure, Ayers will have thirty days from entry of judgment in which to appeal Judge McPhillips' order dismissing his case.