By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN — Leslie Kime is no longer around to say what he thinks about how a fence on his ranch has become a hot issue in Nebraska’s U.S. Senate race.
But 16 years ago, he made it clear during a deposition that he wasn’t too happy about his neighbors’ repeated attempts to buy or trade land with him.
Deb Fischer and her husband Bruce filed a 1995 lawsuit against Kime that has become the focus of Bob Kerrey’s campaign in the past week. The Democrat launched a website, TV ad and statewide media tour highlighting what he calls a character issue.
The Kerrey campaign has accused Fischer of making a land grab against her elderly neighbors. Republican state Sen. Fischer responded this week by saying the lawsuit was filed on the advice of her attorney to clarify the property boundaries before selling some of their land, since the fence line and deeded property didn’t match.
However, neither Bruce Fischer nor Leslie Kime cited a potential land sale as a reason for the boundary dispute in depositions they gave 16 years ago. Kime, who was 81 at the time, said in his deposition that Bruce Fischer first approached him about swapping land, because “he didn’t like to fix water gaps” — places where the fence crossed the Snake River — and “wanted to change the fences” and “wanted to get land on the east side of the river.”
“I just wasn’t interested in trading off any of the land, and that was about the extent of the conversation,” Kime said in his deposition. “It come as kind of a surprise. They wanted this land, and I wasn’t about to trade off any of that land that had the river in it.”
Letters and court documents show the Kimes had allowed the Fischers to run cattle on a pasture of theirs for years, even though they knew the fence was not in the proper place due to the rugged terrain near the Snake River. Deb Fischer said Tuesday that her family also allowed the Kimes to use some of their land.
After multiple attempts to get the Kimes to trade or sell the land in the 1980s and 1990s, the Fischers tried to get the Kimes to sign a quit claim deed in 1995 and then filed a lawsuit later that year. The Fischers argued that because they used the 104 acres, they should be allowed to acquire it through adverse possession. The judge sided with the Kimes. After the Kimes died, their ranch was sold to a private hunting and fishing club.
During a news conference Tuesday, Deb Fischer characterized the lawsuit as a routine legal step before selling land. But in a 1995 letter to the Kimes proposing a land swap, Bruce Fischer never mentioned a need to clarify the boundary before selling land. He cited poor fencing conditions, the number of fences required, accessibility and a desire to improve the usefulness of his ranch. He also mentioned a need to water his cattle and a route to U.S. Forest Service land, where his cattle graze.
During his deposition, Kime said Bruce Fischer said he wanted a straight, rather than angled, fence across the Snake River and “was pretty insistent (getting) on that south half of that river.”
“With my three boys coming along, I want to try to resolve it before it becomes their problem too,” Bruce Fischer said in the letter. “I want to do my best to leave my kids with a ranch that can maximize its agricultural usefulness and purpose, by cleaning up these types of problem areas.”
He called it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a rancher to expand his operation. The swap would’ve given Kimes an extra 111 acres and 1¼ miles of riverside land. But Kime wasn’t interested.
“I just had no reason whatsoever to trade,” Kime said in his deposition. “I was satisfied with what I had, and I was making a good living, and I was retired.”
Kime said Bruce Fischer also had called his wife about swapping land, and she “wasn’t too happy about it … because she didn’t want to lose any of that land.”
Fischer acknowledged Tuesday (see video below) that her family had offered to trade or buy land from the Kimes and she said they wanted to keep it out of court. J.L. Spray, a lawyer for the Fischer campaign, said it’s no surprise the Fischers’ motive isn’t in the depositions.
“The motive for litigants in a civil case is never really relevant to the facts of the case,” Spray said. “It’s not important to an adverse possession case.”
Asked why Bruce Fischer could draw maps of the property if the Fischers were unsure where the property line was, Spray said the boundaries were clear in the register of deeds office, but not out on the rugged ranch land where fences aren’t on section lines.
In his deposition, Bruce Fischer said he had to cross the Kimes’ property to get to a pasture and wanted a clean box of land.
Kerrey has said rather than thank the Kimes for letting them use their land, the Fischers sued them, causing the Kimes to shell out $40,000 in legal fees to defend their land.
“Suing your neighbors for their land doesn’t reflect the Nebraska values I grew up with and learned,” Kerrey said Monday. “State Sen. Fischer’s actions in this case are deeply troubling.”
Neither of the attorneys who represented the Fischers or Kimes during the lawsuit would comment on the case.
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