Judge questions owner of former St. Elizabeth Hospital over lack of progress in sealing the site

Steve Owsley’s expenses relating to the former St. Elizabeth Hospital potentially increased Friday morning when the city of Hannibal submitted a bill for the expenses it incurred when securing the first floor doors and windows of the Virginia Street site.

City Attorney James Lemon turned in an invoice for $3,338.32 to 10th Circuit Court Judge Rachel Bringer Shepherd during a hearing in the Marion County Courthouse in Hannibal.

Owsley is already incurring a $100 a day fine for failing to comply with Judge Shepherd’s previous orders to secure the complex by certain deadlines.

Lemon said following a Dec. 20 hearing that any money spent by the city in sealing the building’s lower level “will be a judgment against Mr. Owsley and it will also be a lien against the property.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 17, Owsley will be given the chance to accept and pay the city’s bill or formally protest it as excessive. It is the court’s hope that Owsley’s decision regarding the bill will be made with legal representation at his side. Such was not the case Friday.

It was reported Friday that Owsley’s request to be represented by a public defender in the civil matter had been denied.

The judge reminded Owsley of the importance of having an attorney represent him. Owsley said he has been looking for a private legal counselor, but had held off on hiring one until he knew if a public defender could represent him.

Owsley answered affirmatively when asked if he has the ability to hire an attorney. He also answered “yes” when asked by Judge Shepherd if he would have an attorney with him on Jan. 17.

The judge advised Owsley that in the next hearing that she plans to proceed with the contempt motion hearing regardless of whether has an attorney or not.

Shepherd advised Owsley that her findings in the upcoming hearing will be based on how much he has complied to her past orders to seal the site.

“The more you comply the better it will be,” she said. “The more you do the less likely it will be that the city will ask for you to be sent to jail.”

Owsley reported he has hired an individual to seal the second and third floor windows. While he thought some work has been done, Owsley admitted he has not been by to check the progress.

Lemon countered that there is no evidence that any work has taken place.

Shepherd encouraged Owsley to contact the individual he hired every day until the necessary work has been completed.

The judge admitted wondering why Owsley has not already complied with her past rulings. She questioned whether Owsley understands what is expected, or if he believes her orders do not apply to him.

“This is not a joke or something that is optional,” said Shepherd. “You agreed to do this (work).”

Lemon, who noted that jail time is still “on the table,” believes that after making multiple appearances in court some headway is likely soon.

“Due process requires that Mr. Owsley be given every opportunity to retain counsel. As a result, since the public defender was unable to represent him and because he has not retained counsel, we were unable to have a trial today. However, on Jan. 17, it is my belief that we will be having a hearing absent an attorney entering for Mr. Owsley and having a good faith basis to request that the hearing be moved to another date. I anticipate therefore that we will see some solid movement on that date if Mr. Owsley has not completed the work he was ordered to do,” he said.

Reach reporter Danny Henley at danny.henley@courierpost.com