Articles – Civil Cases

Deborah Vincent (Minder) was employed by Jackson County as Assistant County Counsel in the Office of County Counsel following her four years with the Office of the District Attorney. In that position she provided legal advice to department directors and employees of Health and Human Services, Information Systems, the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport, Assessor, Treasurer, Property Management, Facility Maintenance, and was legal counsel for the White City Planning Commission.  





Jackson County collaborates with three Oregon counties 
to create money-saving tax certification program

Cemetery is hidden well, and so is its ownership 

A gravestone for Ellin Hays, who died in 1868, marks one of 47 known graves in the
Hays Cemetery outside Gold Hill. What isn’t known is who actually owns the one-acre
site.  County must clear up mystery before giving it to Gold Hill association

By Chris Bristol

GOLD HILL — In a field a few miles outside of town, seemingly forgotten but certainly not gone, sits a lonely graveyard that dates back to the mid-1800s. It is a pioneer cemetery. It is, the misspelled sign says, the Hays Cemetery.

There are 47 known graves, some of them unmarked. A few are marked but barely, like the following:


No date. No name. No explanation of the situation. It is a minor mystery best left undisturbed, dating back as it does to a dark era in Oregon history marred by ignorant and often bloody culture clashes between settlers and American Indians.

Of more pressing concern these days is another, less tragic mystery. Namely, who the heck owns the cemetery?

Acting on the belief the one-acre property was donated to the public in 1897 and then abandoned, Jackson County officials recently initiated legal steps seeking clear title. They want to give it to the Gold Hill Historical Society for preservation as a historic site.

But the cemetery apparently was never abandoned. In fact, as recently as 1993 a local woman was buried there.

“This is all news to me,” Rolen Rosecrans, a descendant of the Hays family and sexton of the cemetery, said of the county’s plan Friday. “We went through all of this a few years ago. I thought we were all squared away with the county.”

The cemetery was established sometime in the 1850s. It is located about a quarter-mile off
Hodson Road, several miles outside Gold Hill on the west side of Interstate 5. Public access is limited — gates block the right-of-way — and the cemetery is landlocked by fields and pastures.

The earliest grave site belongs to Jacob Gall, one of the first settlers in the area and namesake of nearby Galls Creek. According to his headstone, he died April 7, 1856, at the age of 55.

Among those buried here are Isaac Fredenburg Jr., a native of New York and veteran of the War of 1812 who died in 1884 at the age of 90, and an unidentified “cattle buyer” who was “killed for his money.” That’s all his grave marker says.

A three-pronged madrone marks the area where many of the Hayses are buried. Scrub oaks dot the landscape. Burrs attach to clothes like velcro. Traffic seen from the freeway, about three-quarters of a mile away, creates background noise that belies the cemetery’s otherwise remote location.

Many of the grave sites date well into the 1970s, as the name Hays gave way to descendants such as the Cooks, the Flippens and the Rosecranses.

The confusion over ownership of the cemetery apparently stems from gaps in the chain of title, which resulted in the cemetery being left off tax-assessment maps. The glitch is not unheard of; old map lines often diverge from legal descriptions of property.

Assistant county counsel Debbie Minder said the existence of the cemetery was unknown to county officials until 1991, when a road crew followed the right-of-way out of curiosity and spotted a graveyard at its terminus.

“Nobody knew it was there,” Minder said. “The assessor’s office didn’t even know it existed.”

A title search proved fruitless, the last recorded land transfer being a deed exactly 100 years earlier in which a man named Peter O. Wilson donated a tiny parcel of his property — the one-acre cemetery — to “the public.” In 1997, the county foreclosed on “unknown owner” for unpaid taxes.

Fast forward to January, when the county Board of Commissioners endorsed a resolution
conveying the property to the Gold Hill Historical Society as an unregistered and undesignated cemetery that nevertheless held “significant” historical value.

“We would be the best people to have it, if anybody,” said Clare Moore, treasurer of the historical society. “It’s a part of our history, and it can’t be replaced.”

Before the transfer can be made, however, the county has to clear title. To do so, the county has to publish for two weeks a public summons to notify anyone laying claim to the property of its intentions.

Minder initially thought there would be no problems. After all, the county has owned the title by court order for three years.

Told that Rosecrans claims title, she promised to look into it. The county, she said, is not
anxious to make an already confusing situation even worse.

“Our only interest here is preservation of a historic site,” she said. “We have no desire to give it away to somebody else and then really have a mess.”

A Deal Carved in Stone

The gravestone for Ellin Hays, who died in 1868, is one of the many markers in Gold Hill’s Hays Cemetery, which was deeded to “the public” by the last-known owners.

Historical society to maintain Gold Hill cemetery

By Chris Bristol

GOLD HILL — More than 100 years after an obscure pioneer cemetery was deeded to “the public,” the question of who really owns it finally has been resolved.

Jackson County officials in recent weeks won permission from the courts transferring title to the Hays Cemetery to the Gold Hill Historical Society, which has promised to preserve it as an historic site.

Lyn Parker, president of the historical society, said the old cemetery is an important artifact. Located in the middle of a field, a half-mile off Hodson Road, it contains graves dating back to the mid-1850s.

“That’s what we’re all about is preserving history,” she said. “What better way to preserve early history than from these old cemeteries?”

Ownership of the cemetery apparently had been in question since 1897, when a man named Peter O. Wilson and his wife Bridget deeded a tiny, one-acre parcel of their property — the cemetery — to “the public.”

The trouble was, nobody knew it. In fact, thanks to a gap in the chain of title and an error on the deed, it never appeared on tax-assessment maps; county officials didn’t even know it existed.

“This is a piece of property someone gave us,” explained Debbie Minder, an assistant county counsel. “Only we didn’t know they gave it to us.”

The cemetery was “discovered” eight or nine years ago by a county road crew. After some research, county officials realized the taxes had never been paid (because nobody had title) and foreclosed on it.

But Rolen Rosecrans knew it existed. As a descendant of the Hays family, which homesteaded the nearby Galls Creek area, he had been taking care of the cemetery for nearly 40 years as the unofficial sexton.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, the county earlier this year began taking steps to gain clear title to the cemetery and get it off the books. The idea was to give it to the local historical society for preservation.

After reading a Mail Tribune story about the county’s plans in August, Rosecrans marched down to the courthouse with what he thought was a deed to the property. Unfortunately, according to Minder, the deed clearly contained a one-acre exception — the cemetery.

“Mr. Rosecrans had been taking care of it for a long time,” she said. “He thought he owned it, but he apparently only owned all the property around it.”

Rosecrans eventually agreed that the best thing to do was to give it to the historical society, clearing the way for a court-ordered default when nobody else came forward.

For its part, the historical society readily agreed to keep Rosecrans on as the volunteer sexton. Rosecrans said he plans to enlist more help, spiffing up the grounds and mapping grave sites.

“It’s fine with me,” Rosecrans said Thursday. “We’re going to get more help improving maintenance (and) plotting the graves. It’s a good way to work it out.”

Parker said the historical society values Rosecrans’ help and expertise.

“At first Rollie was a little upset,” she said. “But then we explained to him that we don’t want to take anything away from him, that we still want him to continue as the sexton. All we want to do is be sure the cemetery is maintained as a historical site.”

Minder said certain issues remains unresolved, mainly a possible dispute with a neighboring property owner over the right-of-way to the cemetery.

But the deal with the historical society means there will be no disputes about ownership of the cemetery itself.

“We’re certain the cemetery will be cared for and maintained in the best way it could be,” she said. “It’s not going to be lost for another hundred years.”

County needs homes for 500 confiscated rabbits

Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell

The Jackson County Animal Shelter has more bunnies that you can shake a carrot stick at. They’re looking for good homes for the animals seized in an animal neglect case.

Mail Tribune

Wanted: good homes for 500 rabbits in all colors, shapes and sizes.

The Jackson County Animal Shelter is literally filled to the brim with furry bunnies in desperate need of permanent homes.

Some of the rabbits must be adopted by experienced handlers who can properly groom a long-haired bunny or treat various medical ailments.

Others, however, require only a little tender loving care.

“It’s very important that we find proper homes for them,” director Colleen Macuk has said. “These rabbits are pets.”

Approximately 300 rabbits – mostly Angoras – were seized from the home of Rogue River resident Diane L. Scott in August.

The animal neglect case began in spring when a neighbor complained about the rabbits’ living conditions.

Animal control officials said they were forced to euthanize some of Scott’s suffering rabbits. Others, they said, were malnourished, suffered from disease or parasites or required extensive grooming.

Wednesday, Scott pleaded no contest to a charge of first-degree animal neglect in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Scott was given five years of probation, 80 hours of community service and ordered to turn over her remaining pets to Jackson County.

Scott – who did not know the judge would order her to forfeit her remaining pets or ban her from owning animals – said she plans to appeal and sue the county for seizing her rabbits.

Animal control officers on Thursday took more than 200 rabbits from Scott’s home to the shelter at 5595 S. Pacific Highway. Attempts to contact animal control officials to learn about the conditions of the additional rabbits were unsuccessful.

Scott also was ordered to pay restitution for the rabbits’ care. Assistant County Counsel Debbie Minder said an exact figure was not available. However, Minder said Scott has already paid approximately $4,910 in “civil forfeitures” but details were unavailable Thursday.

Scott will be required to pay an estimated $2,000 to $3,000 more, Minder said. Veterinary care alone has totaled almost $1,000. Money taken from the shelter’s general fund and donations have been used to pay for the rabbits’ upkeep.

Inmates from the county corrections center in Talent have provided daily care, and rabbit experts have also volunteered time. However Minder said the county is not equipped to house rabbits and is anxious to find permanent homes.

“These rabbits were costing a whole lot of money but we certainly want to make sure they get good homes,” Minder said. “Everyone wants to see things turn out all right.”

Medford resident Betsy Brown has been following the rabbits’ story and stopped by the shelter Thursday to adopt a few of then.

Brown spent a few minutes looking at a cage filled with baby rabbits competing for her attention before moving on.

Brown – a rabbit lover who already owns three – said she came to adopt a “misfit.”

“I always do seem to pick those,” she said. “Every animal at my house is one nobody wanted, so they should fit right in.”

The rabbits are free to a good home. New owners must bring an animal carrier and sign a pledge to care for the animal. Residents cannot adopt more than five rabbits. However, people who are part of an animal organization (such as 4-H) or who prove they are qualified to shelter more than five animals can adopt up to 10.

Residents interested in adoption are urged to call 774-6655 Monday through Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.

Wimer rabbit owner appeals animal neglect ruling

Mail Tribune

A Wimer woman convicted of animal neglect has appealed the ruling to the state attorney general, leaving Jackson County stuck with more than 200 rabbits until the matter is resolved.

Diane L. Scott last week filed the appeal of her Oct. 31 conviction in Jackson County Circuit Court. “They have literally violated my rights over and over again and seem to think this is OK,” Scott said. “They have given away valuable animals. I want restitution if nothing else.”

The county already has given away more than 200 rabbits of a total of about 400 but will continue to provide care for the remaining bunnies until the appeal is settled, a process that could take more than a year.

By law, the county can’t offer any more for adoption until the appeal is resolved.

In late summer, animal control officers seized 200 rabbits from Scott’s home, leaving about 200 others.

In October, Scott pleaded no contest to a charge of animal neglect in front of Jackson County Circuit Judge Rebecca Orf. A plea of no contest has the same legal effect as a guilty plea.

The district attorney and Scott’s public defender agreed to a sentence including probation, restitution and the forfeiture of approximately 200 rabbits.

However, Orf instead sentenced Scott to community service, extended her probation and ordered Scott to forfeit all of her animals. Scott also was banned from owning or caring for animals during her five-year probation sentence.

Assistant County Counsel Debbie Minder said Scott is appealing the forfeiture of the 200 rabbits that remained in her care before sentencing.

The issue is complicated because even if Scott wins the appeal, she cannot care for the animals because of the conviction.

“We cannot give them back to her because she cannot violate the terms of her probation,” Minder added.

Spokesman Kevin Neely of the attorney general’s office said he could not comment on the specifics of the case. However, Neely said no time limits apply to appeals cases.

“It’s not a quick process. It’s a long and arduous one,” he said.

Neely said both sides have the option of settling the matter without a judge.

“Any matter can be resolved out of a courtroom,” Neely said. “That’s certainly a possibility.”

Minder said the county is considering whether forfeiture of the second 200 rabbits should remain part of Scott’s sentence.

It also is considering working with Scott to find homes for the animals.

While the process continues, animal control will continue to care for the bunnies. Shelter Director Colleen Macuk said she will take names and phone numbers of people who are interested in adopting the rabbits when the appeal is settled.

Jackson County collaborates with three Oregon counties 
to create money-saving tax certification program

Friday, February 01, 2002

A partnership between Jackson, Polk, Deschutes and Tillamook counties in developing a custom tax certification program will save county taxpayers about $1.5 million over the next 10 years and potentially much more. In 2004, the program could possibly be marketed to other Oregon counties for future revenue to be shared by the four counties.

“Last year we reviewed our computer system and tax certification program and basically came to the conclusion that it needed to be updated,” says Dan Ross, who has been Jackson County’s assessor since 1989. “Some components of the system are over 20 years old.”

Ross learned from Deschutes County’s assessor, who was also researching a new program, that Polk County had developed its own program with the Salem-based company Helion, Inc. At the time, the program was not offered commercially.

“We met with Polk County’s assessors to study their program,” says Ross. “Upon review, it was pretty much just what we were looking for. Other programs are developed for the entire U.S. in general, but because Oregon has unique property appraisals, the programs are not as tailored for our use. The one used by Polk County was developed specifically for Oregon and had an Oregon ‘feel.’ It was comfortable for what we needed.”

The two counties, along with Deschutes and Tillamook, began working on a partnership to make the program available to all four counties. Because Polk and Tillamook counties are considerably smaller than Jackson and Deschutes counties, certain modifications were made to best serve each of the agencies.

Ross was responsible for writing the contract partnering the four counties and credits the work of Debbie Minder, Jackson County assistant counsel, in helping solidify the details.

“The logistics made for a difficult process in getting the legal counsels from four different counties to come to an agreement,” Ross says. “But the give-and-take between the counties was amazing. Everyone worked together for the best possible overall outcome.”

The counties also agreed with Helion, Inc., that by 2004 it would make adjustments to the program to make it more efficiently used by counties of various sizes. At that time the four counties will have the ability to market the program to other counties and share in any revenues earned.

“Just in the first few years of use, this program will save Jackson County residents about two-thirds of the cost of a commercial program, had we bought a new one,” Ross says. “In 10 years it will save about $1.5 million, and that doesn’t factor in any future sales of the program to other Oregon counties, or possibly counties in other states.”

The program has been installed in Jackson County and will be used to certify taxes for the 2002-2003 tax year.