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After 24 years, ruling in lawsuit

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GREAT FALLS - The wheels of justice grind slowly, but this is pushing the envelope.

In Montana's Toole County, retired District Judge Ronald McPhillips ruled this week in a lawsuit that was left hanging for nearly a quarter-century.

The judge ruled in Great Falls against Milan Ayers, who contended that former partner James Rubow swindled him out of his share of a natural gas field, with leases potentially worth millions of dollars.

The lawsuit was filed March 31, 1983. The last entry in the clerk's register was in March 1985. Then the file disappeared from the clerk's office.

After the Great Falls Tribune wrote about it, McPhillips found the case documents.

"I think he found it in an old briefcase he had at home," said longtime administrative assistant Elda Nichols, who had worked for McPhillips before his retirement in 1994.

McPhillips brought the lawsuit and his notes to the court late last week, said Nichols, and District Judge Laurie McKinnon asked the Montana Supreme Court for guidance on how to proceed.

If the case is in good shape, let McPhillips rule on it, the judge was told.

On Monday, McPhillips ruled that Rubow did not breach his agreement with Ayers. The lawsuit was dismissed, and no damages were awarded.

"He had taken very good, very copious notes on the case, so it was good, he was able to rule on it, and we were able to avoid a new hearing," Nichols said.

Ayers says he's uncertain whether he'll appeal.

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