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Parties wrangling over historic Hansen Ranch

It's Jackson Land and Cattle owner versus late governor's descendants in legal dispute.
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole News&Guide
November 07, 2012

Richard Fields and descendants of Cliff and Martha Hansen are battling over ownership of hundreds of acres of the Hansen Ranch in Spring Gulch.

Fields filed a lawsuit Oct. 24 against the Hansen descendants, claiming they broke the terms of the purchase agreement and that he subsequently stopped making payments on his debt. Shortly after, the Hansens filed a notice of foreclosure against Fields, claiming he owes them nearly $52 million.

The two sides spent months trying to renegotiate an agreement about the debt Fields took on to buy the Hansen Ranch in 2006. The deal fell apart in September, when Peter Hansen turned down an offer by Fields to pay the outstanding balance on the ranch, Fields’ attorney Chris Hawks claims.

The failed negotiations sparked the legal actions by both sides of the dispute. They’re trying to figure out how to move forward.

“We remain hopeful that despite the legal wrangling, that when all the dust settles we can enter into good faith negotiations,” Hawks said Tuesday after speaking with Fields.

Brad Mead and Peter Hansen, members of the Hansen family, declined to comment about the dispute. Mead, a lawyer, said they would answer soon in a legal filing.

Peter Hansen’s father, the late Cliff Hansen, was governor of Wyoming. The late governor’s grandson, Matt Mead, is governor today.

Fields is a casino and resort developer who put Jackson Land and Cattle Ranch in Spring Gulch on the market this summer for $175 million. He has been talking with the Jackson Hole Land Trust about an easement that would protect a large meadow along Spring Gulch Road, Hawks said. The conservation nonprofit is studying whether the deal would be feasible, Hawks said.

Land trust Executive Director Laurie Andrews couldn’t be reached for comment by press time Tuesday.

The lawsuit Fields filed against the Hansen descendants, led by Peter Hansen in this dispute, claims the Hansens haven’t lived up to their end of the land deal. The lawsuit claims that they haven’t turned over a portion of the property to Fields and continue to use parts of the land to graze cattle and ride mountain bikes, that they have allowed guests to hunt on the property and that they have “ejected guests of [Fields] from the property and threatened them with charges of trespass.”

The Hansen descendants’ “actions have, over time, made clear that they are occupying the property as though they were in full exclusive possession,” attorney Joe Moore said in the lawsuit.

Fields claims he stopped making payments to the Hansen descendants because they never fully vacated the property. He’s asking the district court to rescind the contract between the two parties.

He also claims that the Hansen descendants owe him about $2.2 million in penalties because they haven’t fully turned over the property to him.

The Hansen descendants haven’t yet answered the complaint, which was filed in 9th Judicial District Court.

In the lawsuit, Fields’ attorney claims he bought the Hansen Ranch from the family in August 2006. He agreed to buy the property for $69 million, according to the filing.

Fields signed a $56.2 million promissory note with the Hansens that was secured by a mortgage on the property. Field says he already has paid the Hansen family nearly $34.3 million toward the purchase price.

In the foreclosure notice published today, members of the Hansen Descendents Limited Partnership and the Hansen Spring Gulch Limited Partnership claim Fields owes $51.9 million on a mortgage the two parties signed in 2006.

Peter Hansen is listed as the registered agent for the Hansen partnership, according to the state secretary of state’s website.

JLC Ranch, Fields’ company, has several limited liability companies registered with the secretary of state’s office, each one with a slight variation. There’s JLC Ranch Development, JLC Holdings and JLC Properties. All three entities list attorney Chris Hawks as their organizer.

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