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The small town of Ashgrove was in shock as their favorite (and only) well-known real estate broker Tom Vallin was accused of violating Ashgrove’s most serious legal statute.

In Ashgrove, as with nearly all of the surrounding communities, it is strictly illegal to point a gun directly at another unarmed person and kill them, regardless of circumstance. Ashgrove’s law was originally written during prohibition in the 1920’s.

On Tuesday, Tom pointed his S&W 32 revolver at his business partner, Al Roberts, and shot him. Al was rushed to the Ashgove Community Hospital, where he remained near death for two weeks.

The local Ashgrove Gun Club has for years lobbied to have this law rewritten, as they argue: “If that other person, although unarmed, was making threats towards the armed person, indicating his life is in danger, that armed person has a right to defend himself, inclusive of pointing his gun with the intent to kill.”

Al Roberts recovered from his wounds, and Tom Vallin was not charged with any crime, as the statute clearly says, “It is strictly illegal to point a gun directly at another unarmed person and kill them,” and since Al was not killed by the bullet that left Tom Vallin’s S&W 32 revolver, there is no violation.

Strict interpretation of the law, one might say.

A lesser-known law in Ashgrove says that it is illegal for auctioneers in Ashgrove to buy at their own auctions. Tom Vallin’s company employs an auctioneer — Rita Brown — and she sells real and personal property at auction both onsite, as well as at her auction barn every Saturday night.

Just after the shooting, Rita Brown was charged with violating Ashgrove’s statute prohibiting her from buying at her own auction. However, Rita has countered that she didn’t buy anything at her auction, although she did bid on several items.

However, Tom Vallin’s auctioneer encounters another interpretation of Ashgrove’s laws — since Rita Brown admitted to bidding at her own auction, Ashgrove’s town council found her guilty of their auction statute.

Despite Rita pointing out that she didn’t buy anything — and only bid — which Ashgrove’s statute doesn’t prohibit, she feels she is innocent of her charges. Nevertheless, Ashgrove’s town council finds Rita guilty citing:

    “We find Rita Brown guilty of violating Ashgrove statute 1.31-4 which prohibits auctioneers from buying at their own auctions. Despite Rita Brown’s assertion that she only bid, her bidding carries with it the inherent risk of buying, and such risk is in the control of the other bidders, and not her.”

Interpretation per the “spirit of the law,” one might say.

Rita Brown hires local attorney Candis Vivian. Candis contacts the Ashgrove town council by mail and notes that they appear to have two ways in which they enforce their laws. Part of her letter is here:

    “…on the one hand, the statute prohibiting killing someone in the Vallin case wasn’t interpreted to include attempting to kill someone, while the statute prohibiting an auctioneer from buying at her own auction in the Brown case was interpreted to include attempting to do so …”

Why is this important for auctioneers? Because auction laws around the country can sometimes be interpreted beyond their literal meaning (as they were in this Brown case.) Such interpretations can sometimes include what the people who drafted the law meant and/or the intent of the person possibly violating the law.

In some jurisdictions, the actual law is not nearly as important as the local, state, or federal official’s reading of it, and interpretation of it. As I regularly assist attorneys in auctioneer-related court cases, this lesson is very important to keep in mind as despite what the laws actually say … it sometimes doesn’t matter.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, Keller Williams Greater Columbus Auctions and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction and. His Facebook page is: www.facebook.com/mbauctioneer. He serves as Adjunct Faculty at Columbus State Community College and is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.