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Legal worries for owner of cluttered yard lessen with fine payment

An outstanding fine has been settled and a Grand Forks man embroiled in trouble over the clutter on his property now faces one less court date. Darla Feilen, clerk of Grand Forks Municipal Court, said an $800 fine owed by Donald Masse, 610 S. Nin...

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Donald Masse's backyard at 610 S. Ninth St. on Sept. 13, seen from the driveway of an adjacent home. (Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald)

An outstanding fine has been settled and a Grand Forks man embroiled in trouble over the clutter on his property now faces one less court date.

Darla Feilen, clerk of Grand Forks Municipal Court, said an $800 fine owed by Donald Masse, 610 S. Ninth St., was paid Thursday in relation to his cluttered backyard. He initially had been charged a $1,000 fine earlier this summer and had been paying $100 per month until he missed an installment-which resulted in a Monday court date, where he would have been asked to explain the missed payment and could have been found in contempt of court.

Feilen said that paying the required $800-the outstanding amount on the fine-means the court date has been canceled.

But that's not the end of Masse's legal worries. He's still due in municipal court on Monday, where he'll be asked to explain the state of his property. Along with the $1,000 fine he already paid, a suspended $52,000 portion of the fine had been deferred in July, contingent on Masse cleaning his property within a month and keeping it clean for nearly a year. Masse won an extension on that deadline but needed to have the property cleaned by late September.

Feilen said as of Oct. 5, the area still hadn't been cleaned. Masse's appearance Monday is a chance for a judge to weigh the matter and for Masse to explain the situation. It's possible Masse could face the $52,000 fine, be found in contempt of court, or both.

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Contempt of court comes with a maximum punishment of a $1,500 fine and 30 days in jail.

Both matters stem from a July 15 complaint filed by the Grand Forks Health Department, which is currently pursuing a separate means of cleaning the property. After Masse failed to meet the September cleaning deadline, officials began seeking a contractor to clean the property.

Speaking on Sept. 10 Javin Bedard-an environmental health manager with the department-said plans were developing to have the yard cleaned and held to public health standards, a slightly different standards than the city junk ordinance, sometime during the week of Oct. 24.

The process is expected to lead to fees for Masse in excess of $2,500.

Feilen said she couldn't say how the pending cleaning might affect a judge's ruling at Masse's coming court date.

"But if that is brought up in court, it could be a factor," she said.

Masse said he paid the fine because he knew he had to do so. He pointed out, as he has in the past, that he doesn't have $52,000, and added he's not interested in paying the Health Department to have his property cleaned.

"I'm not paying no check," he said. "I'll tear up my checkbook right now if you want a demonstration."

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This post has been updated to clarify the relationship between the $1,000 and $52,000 in fines against Masse.

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