Judge to Groene: Get out

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COEUR d’ALENE — Steve Groene must leave a house in Coeur d’Alene where he has lived for 13 years and which he claimed was his, despite never having purchased the property or having a title to it.

After presiding over a three-day civil trial last month and considering briefs filed by Groene and attorneys for the Shasta Groene Charitable Trust, First District Judge Richard Christensen concluded in a decision Thursday that Groene was an unlawful tenant in a house he didn’t own, and whose owners wanted him evicted.

Christensen also ordered Groene to pay court costs accrued by the trust, which had tried for years to evict him.

“(Groene) is guilty of unlawful detainer, and (Shasta Groene Charitable Trust) is entitled to a judgment against (Groene) ... for restitution of the premises and the costs and disbursements of the action,” Christensen wrote in his decision.

Because he had lived more than a decade in the house at 2323 E. French Gulch — which was owned by the trust, built with community donations and set aside for his daughter Shasta — Groene had asked the court for ownership of the property. But in Thursday’s ruling, Christensen also denied that request.

Groene is the father of Shasta Groene, who was kidnapped in a horrific criminal case 13 years ago. She was 8 years old when she and her 9-year-old brother Dylan were abducted by Joseph Duncan after he killed family members, including Shasta’s mother, at the family’s Coeur d’Alene home. Duncan eventually killed Dylan and was arrested at a Denny’s restaurant in Coeur d’Alene where he had gone to eat with Shasta.

Steve Groene was not a target in the murders.

The terrible incident resulted in a flood of contributions to help Shasta, resulting in the formation of the charitable trust, which paid for the house as an investment for Shasta’s future needs, according to court records. Shasta, who is now 21, lived on the French Gulch property off and on with her dad until five years ago, when she moved to southern Idaho. Groene stayed in the house.

The trust sued to evict Groene and retain the property, and the case was heard in a trial in Coeur d’Alene last month. Christensen told attorneys to file briefs, which he would consider before making a ruling on the case.

As part of his defense, Groene wanted to admit as evidence a letter from Shasta in which she asked the trust to turn over her interest in the house to her father. Without Shasta to testify, the court initially ruled the letter was hearsay and didn’t allow it as evidence. Attorneys for the trust said Shasta’s testimony would not have mattered because she did not own the house.

“I don’t think Shasta’s presence would have made any difference,” attorney Scott Poorman said. “She doesn’t have any interest in the property.”

Groene claimed that the trust used his homelessness 13 years ago as a marketing tool to gather donations to pay for the land and the home’s construction, and that he and members of the trust had an implied contract.

“There is an implied contract ... which provided me, together with Shasta an equal equitable interest in the home built for us,” he wrote in a hand-written brief in court records.

Groene asked the court to deny the trust’s claim to the property it owned.

“Guarantee Shasta and I what is rightfully ours,” Groene wrote. “We each have equal right to the home that the donors (and) community built for us.”

Groene called the volunteers who have overseen the charitable organization for more than a decade “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” and their push to evict Groene deplorable.

“I can only describe this as an ungracious, deplorable and heartless act by people who came offering help,” he wrote in his brief.

Anything but a ruling in his favor, Groene wrote, would be wrong.

“You know it is the fair and just thing to do,” he wrote.

The property is assessed at $240,000, according to county records.

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