Judge orders mediation in seat-slash case

SANDPOINT ó A five-day jury trial in 1st District Court has been set in a civil suit accusing a part-time resident of slashing scores of chair lift seat covers at Schweitzer Mountain Resort.

The resortís suit against David Donald Markwardt is slated to be tried starting July 28, although Judge Barbara Buchanan ordered the two sides into mediation during a status conference on Wednesday, which would eliminate the need for a trial if a resolution can be reached.

Schweitzer filed suit against Markwardt last spring, alleging that the skier and condominium owner used a sharp object to mar more than 60 seat covers on multiple lifts dating back to the 2011 season.

The suit seeks thousands in compensatory damages, plus punitive damages for outrageous conduct. It also seeks to bar Markwardt from accessing the resortís slopes.

Markwardt, a 63-year-old retired physician, was also prosecuted criminally for malicious injury to property, although the case face-planted at a September preliminary hearing in Bonner County Magistrate Court.

Markwardt was charged with vandalism at the felony level, although the state did not present evidence that the damages met or exceeded the $1,000-threshold needed to sustain the charge.

Judge Justin Julian dismissed the case without prejudice. The nature of the dismissal enabled the state to re-file the felony charge, but it has yet to do so. Deputy Prosecutor Roger Hanlon does not comment to the media, so itís unclear if the state will revive the case.

Resort staff homed in on Markwardt as a suspect by poring over lift ticket sales, scans of tickets in lift lines and video footage from surveillance cameras.

Markwardt filed an answer and counterclaim in the civil suit in which he denies committing the vandalism and alleges that he was being targeted by the resort for accusing it of violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by having substandard handicap parking facilities.

Markwardt describes himself in court documents as a Vietnam veteran with service-related injuries.

The resort had to widen a handicap space to accommodate vehicles with wheelchair lifts following a U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development investigation, but denies there is a vendetta against Markwardt.

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