May 2008

Bridgers gets day in court
The Shelbyville News
May 16, 2008
By Bettina Puckett
Staff Reporter

After a three hour civil trial Thursday, a Shelby County Judge will determine if the owner of the Olde Geneva Dairy scrapbooking retreat violated building, electrical and plumbing codes and illegally operated the business.

Anson Craig Bridgers, 43, represented himself in court at a bench trial before Shelby Superior Court II Judge Russell J. Sanders. In August 2007, Shelby County sued Bridgers in a civil case over code violations and for allegedly operating a business illegally in an agricultural district.

At the end of the afternoon’s proceedings, Sanders gave Bridgers and the Shelby County Plan Commission’s attorney, Brady Rife, an additional 30 days to file any relevant paperwork before ruling on the case.

Rife is an attorney with the Shelbyville law firm of McNeely, Stephenson, Thopy and Harrold. He was hired as a special counsel for the case.

As the trail began, Sanders addressed a matter involving Bridgers requesting a jury trial.

“I don’t recall giving up the right to a jury trial,” said Bridgers, dressed in a black sweater and black pants, who is currently serving a one year sentence in the Shelby County jail on a tax evasion conviction.

But Bridgers’ inexperience as an attorney came to light when Sanders told him he was required to file for a jury trial within 10 days after the first response. “That time has long since passed,” Sanders said.

Both Rife and Bridgers gave opening statements. Rife said the case was to complex but involved a number of code violations.

After county officials discovered that Bridgers was running a business out of his home in Geneva, they tried to work with him to resolve the situation, testified Amy Dillon, executive director of the plan commission.

Bridgers appeared before the Shelby County Board of Zoning Appeals to request a use variance, but only four of the five BZA members were present at the meeting and the vote was 2-2.

At one point, Bridgers agreed to withdraw his request for a variance and applied for the necessary permits for work he had done to the house. However, his $300 check bounced, so permit were not valid, Dillon said.

On April 18, 2007, Warren Goodrich went to Bridgers’ home to conduct an inspection. Goodrich is the county’s former building, plumbing and electrical inspector. When Bridgers denied Goodrich access to the home, Goodrich posted an unsafe building notice on a window.

Bridgers said any business activities ceased completely after Goodrich posted the sigh, but Dillon said her office and the Shelby County of Health continued to get complaints from neighbors that the scrapbooking facility was being operated out of the home.

Dillon testified that there were other violations including not taking down or altering a website advertising the Olde Geneva Dairy. On July 13, 2007, a neighbor informed authorities that Bridgers again was hosting a retreat.

“He knew he did not have the zoning approved, and the scrapbooking retreat was not authorized at that time,” Dillon said.

During a raid on the facility Dillon and other officials found nine women scrapbooking.

“They were shocked to see us,” Dillon said.

Dillon witnessed a number of building, electrical and plumbing code violations, as well as chips and drinks on a separate table. Bridgers did not have a food permit in Shelby County and was not allowed to serve food at that time.

County officials continued to try to work with Bridgers, Dillon said.

We were trying to allow Bridgers to stay in the home, but not have an illegal operation,” she said.

Dillon said she received complaints about scrapbooking taking place over three weekends.

When Bridgers cross-examined Dillon, he asked her if other business are allowed in an agriculturally zoned area. She said only agriculture-based and home-occupation business are allowed.

Often during the trial, when it seemed that Bridgers did not get the answer he was looking for he would ask it again.

I’m going to give you some leeway because you’re not an attorney, but you need to ask a question that hasn’t been asked before,” Sanders said.

Bridgers said county officials did not have a warrant when they appeared at his home to inspect it, but Dillon said when Deputy Denis Ratekin said, “We’re going into the building,” Bridgers replied, “OK.”

When Goodrich testified, he said he had concerns of people being in an unsafe building.

“I told Amy I had reason to believe that people were inside the building and (Bridgers) was back in action again,” Goodrich said.

In the past two years, at least 17 women have filed complaints with the Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter’s office. A spokeswoman for Carter said Thursday that the complaints are still pending.

A hardcopy of this article can be found at the Shelbyville, Indiana Library’s Genealogy Services located at 58 W Hendricks Street, Shelbyville, IN 46176 or you can call 317.398.8144