Skagit judge to rule on Greenbank beach dispute

A Skagit County judge will decide if Island County legally owns a disputed piece of Greenbank beach property.

On Monday, Island County Superior Court Judge Vickie Churchill granted a change-of-venue motion brought by the attorneys for Bruce Montgomery, a pharmaceutical magnate who claims the small piece of property as his own.

Island County officials filed the lawsuit for ejectment and quiet title, declaratory relief and to abate a public nuisance in March after years of investigation.

The controversy began more than five years ago when Montgomery built a rock wall at the end of Wonn Road, which is adjacent to his waterfront home.

Montgomery claims he owns the beach property.

Members of the community were upset at losing scarce public access to the water. The late Glenn Russell, a Greenbank artist, claimed that the area was always public and was once the head of the long-gone Greenbank Wharf.

In court Monday, Jamila Johnson of the law firm Schwabe, Williamson and Wyatt cited arguments in support of the motion to change venue.

According to Island County Chief Civil Deputy Dave Jamieson, Johnson argued that, under state law, the lawsuit should have been filed in a neighboring county because Island County is the plaintiff

Johnson also argued that “the judge cannot be impartial because county commissioners set the budget for the courts,” Jamieson said.

Jamieson, however, said he disagrees.

He argues that the case didn’t meet the statutory grounds for change of venue.

“I don’t think a judge would have trouble being impartial just because the commissioners fund the court,” he said.

Montgomery’s attorney, however, won the argument.

Jamieson said the case will be concluded, if it isn’t settled first, with a bench trial. That means a Skagit County Superior Court judge, not a jury, will weigh the evidence and enter a decision.

The date for trial is not yet set.

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