The embroiled court battle for ownership of the Eternal Hills cemetery is far from over, despite an auction last week to settle a bidding war between Klamath County and previous owner Robert Gordon.
Gordon won the auction with an offer of $230,000, according to Klamath County Commissioner Derrick DeGroot. DeGroot called that outcome “devastating.” However, Gordon’s high bid could mean the beginning of another legal battle over the property.
DeGroot said Klamath County is in talks with the Department of Justice to challenge the legality of Gordon owning the cemetery, because the bankruptcy settlement on the property stripped Gordon of his mortuary license and prohibited him from owning one in the state of Oregon.
The process of getting in front of a judge could take months, DeGroot said, but the auction was a necessary step in the attempt to disqualify Gordon as a buyer.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Gordon continues to prolong the suffering of our community,” he said.
The auction comes amid a standoff between the county and Gordon after Klamath County offered to buy the cemetery for $59,000 in April. Gordon objected to the county’s offer, in part because the county’s price would cut Gordon and his affiliates out of any profit from the sale. Gordon submitted his own bid for $175,000.
Gordon stipulated in his bid that he would donate the internment plots at the cemetery to Klamath County to own and operate. Gordon only wanted to keep the plot of land which housed an office and residence on the property.
DeGroot said Klamath County is not interested in being a part of that arrangement.
The two parties have undergone state mediation in an attempt to reach a compromise, which failed.
The Department of Justice filed its own objection to a sale of the cemetery to Gordon, listing ways in which he ran the cemetery in bad faith, including not following through on services and not adequately tagging identifying information on bodies.
“Gordon’s conduct was serious, extensive, and caused harm to the public,” stated the DOJ’s objection.
Community members have rallied to oppose any attempt by Gordon to regain control of his old cemetery. Dozens of objections were filed against a previous offer by a company that the court was unable to discern if Gordon was involved with or not. Some, including DeGroot, accused Highlands LLC of being a puppet company serving as a guise for Gordon to take back the cemetery. When the Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery Board attempted to question Gordon’s wife in court, who was listed as the Chief Financial Officer of Highlands, the offer was withdrawn.
The cemetery has been for sale since December 2019.
While many were hoping an established cemetery or mortuary business would step up and take over Eternal Hills, community members also explored the possibility of creating a nonprofit to purchase it themselves.
Just before the court-appointed trustee was ready to abandon the property because it wasn’t selling, Klamath County stepped up with an offer. DeGroot stated the county planned to refurbish the property through donations and volunteers, before trying to sell it to a private operator. Enterprise Irrigation District said it would donate two years of water to revive the landscape.
A lawyer representing Eternal Hills declined to comment. A lawyer representing Gordon did not respond as of press time.