Peoria historical society edges closer to trial: Judge denies summary judgment

This jail house is one of five buildings that make up the museum in Old Town Peoria, which has been taken back by the city of Peoria, the landlord and owner. [Submitted photo]

By Philip Haldiman
Independent Newsmedia

After a judge’s recent ruling, the possibility of a trial to determine the keeper of Peoria’s history is still up in the air.

In a pre-trial motion, two feuding factions who claim to be the rightful Peoria Arizona Historical Society requested partial summary judgments to avoid the time and expense of a trial. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Pamela Gates denied both sides.

Ms. Gates stopped short of naming either group the rightful Peoria Historical Society.

Both groups squarely disagree with each other, alleging unresolved issues and conflicting claims that could eventually be resolved by a jury, which is tasked with resolving factual disputes. Judges resolve legal questions.

In her statement, filed with the clerk June 26, Ms. Gates said a summary judgment is “not intended to resolve factual disputes and is inappropriate if the court must determine the credibility of witnesses, weigh the quality of evidence, or choose among competing inferences.”

The denial of the partial summary judgments could lead to trial if the two sides cannot resolve their differences outside court.

The judge considered the claims of both groups — the plaintiffs, named group A, and the defendants, named group B, for the purposes of this article.

Frank Mead, attorney for group A, said the case will stay on the litigation track, but there is a chance it could be settled out of court to avoid the time and expense of a trial.

David Brnilovich, attorney for group B, was out of town and could not be reached for an interview.

“Although the judge did not decide the case in either party’s favor at this time, the judge made important findings that favor my clients and damage the other group’s case as the matter continues forward,” Mr. Mead said.

Annual meetings for the Peoria Arizona Historical Society are to be held in May of each year for the purposes of electing new officers and directors, with the quorum requirements being 15 percent of the voting members, according to the constitution and bylaws of the historical society.

Group B held a meeting on May 31, 2017, in which more than 60 people cast votes for a new board of directors including President Kevin Kosier, Vice President Erik McMorrow, Secretary Geri Fair and Treasurer Karen Garbe.

Other members, including Loretta Barmes, were elected to the board as well.

Ms. Gates ruling states that, as a matter of law, Ms. Garbe, Mr. McMorrow and Ms. Barmes were not members of PAHS at the time of the election in May 2017.

In order to be elected, members must pay annual dues — but there was no evidence of such payment until months later, Mr. Mead said.

Group A member Janet Gilsdorf, who was the secretary at the time, alleges that none of the defendants “tendered” membership dues to PAHS prior to May 31, 2017.

Mr. Mead said although the defendants allegedly wrote checks for membership, those checks were never provided to Ms. Gilsdorf, and, it was not until September 2017 when checks were deposited all at once into an account not listed on the articles of incorporation.

“The defendants apparently held onto them. The checks were not deposited until five months later in a new account opened by the defendants. It was not the long-established PAHS account. For those reasons, Karen, Loretta, and Erik were not members of PAHS at the time of their election. This is a critically important fact. In our view, the election of these three defendants is invalid and they cannot change that,” Mr. Mead said.

PAHS is tasked with controlling the day-to-day operations of the museum in Old Town Peoria, which includes five buildings — Peoria Central School Museum, Office Workshop, Business and Government Museum, Agricultural Museum and the Peoria Jail House. The artifacts within the museum are either property owned by PAHS or have been loaned by residents and others. Members from each side form the lineages of some of the oldest families in the city — families that took root long before Peoria was incorporated.

Long-time allegations between the groups include unauthorized members attempting to access the nonprofit’s bank account, stolen artifacts and others.

After more than two years of in-fighting, the PAHS splintered. Two groups emerged, each claiming to be the official historical society.

The city, which leases the museum property, secured and locked the buildings last year, stating that until the groups resolved their differences the buildings would remained closed.

City spokeswoman Jennifer Stein said the city wants to stay out of the dispute between the two groups so it is not allowing anybody access until the groups settle their differences.

Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697,, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.

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