Environmental Court Denies Town Arrest Warrant for Larry Drown
The Vermont Environmental Court has denied the town of Northfield an arrest warrant for Larry Drown for contempt of court.
In April of 2010, the town of Northfield brought post-judgment motions in the Environmental Court seeking injunctive and monetary relief against Mr. Drown and others for having violated town zoning ordinances and subdivision regulations.
This arose from the property commonly known as the “saw mill site” which was owned by J.L. Dupere and Max Berno and was a saw mill from 1933 until it burned in 1984.
Larry Drown purchased the property in 2005 and was described as a 1.4 acre site without any buildings.
Shortly after he purchased the property, he filed an application to build a 60 x 100 foot commercial building which was approved and the building was constructed. However, no Act 250 Application was ever filed.
Then, in 2007, he filed a second application to build a 14 x 70 foot mobile home and filed a sketch showing that the land had been subdivided into two lots. The application was denied.
The Town of Northfield filed a suit against Mr. Drown and other owners of the property for zoning violations. This suit resulted in a summary judgment against Mr. Drown and the other owners. The time to appeal passed and judgment was entered against the property owners according to court records assessing a fine against Mr. Drown of an amount in excess of $22,000 and a finding by Judge Durkin of the Environmental Court that he was the principal person responsible for the illegal development of the property in violation of Northfield’s zoning ordinance.
Since that time, the fine has grown by leaps and bounds to more than $50,000. However, Mr. Drown failed to pay the fine and the town believed that Mr. Drown had failed also to take corrective action to rid the property of illegal structures. Mr. Drown actually did remove the buildings and clean up the property but did not pay the judgment and the town sought contempt proceedings including a request for an arrest warrant from the court. The town sought incarceration for up to two years for failure to comply.
Because of the potential of incarceration, Mr. Drown sought counsel paid for by the state claiming that he had no money to pay for lawyers and the court appointed counsel to represent him in early 2012. Counsel then filed, among other things, a request for relief from judgment on Mr. Drown’s behalf claiming that the fines which were levied were excessive and unique and that the judgment was obtained because
Mr. Drown while attempting to represent himself had “cognitive problems” which made it “difficult if not impossible” for him to properly defend himself and was not able to comply with the judgment due to those problems.
COURT RELEASES DROWNWITHOUT BAILONALLEGED ASSAULTON MARTHA MAHAN
The court noted that the judgment had already become final when Mr. Drown’s attorneys attempted to get it set aside and found no reason to grant the relief sought noting that two psychiatrists had testified that Mr. Drown was not incapacitated. The court also noted that Mr. Drown appeared throughout the hearings in the Environmental Court as a “healthy, robust individual” who was neatly groomed and clothed, well mannered and appeared to be coherent and logical in his choices of words and sentence structure. The court went on to state that Mr. Drown appeared at times combative particularly toward town officials and, on occasion, obstinate to others including the court but had a complete ability to conduct his own affairs and care for himself. As a result, the court denied Mr. Drown’s request to vacate the judgment.
At the same time, the court also denied the town’s request for an arrest warrant. Noting that Mr. Drown had completed an initial cleanup of the property and endeavored to file an application for the needed subdivision permit, he did not make any attempt to pay the judgment. The court also found that he did have the ability to at least pay a part of the judgment, noting that he purchased a mobile home following Tropical Storm Irene for $13,000 in cash and endeavored to improve that property as a possible rental. However, the court found that incarceration was unlikely to prove “a sufficient incentive to convince him to comply with the Court’s prior orders.” The court went on to state that “we have received no presentation from the Town that incarceration would accomplish the goal of compliance” and therefore denied the application for an arrest warrant.
The court did grant an updated judgment order showing that as of the date of the order, which was February 21, 2013, Mr. Drown owed $55,506.98.
To date, the town has not foreclosed on the property and continues to accumulate attorney’s fees and costs relative to these proceedings.
Mr. Drown told the News following the decision, that the town’s continued actions are nothing more than a drain on the taxpayers as attorney’s fees continue to be charged that the voters must pay. He said that he has done everything that he can to clean up the property and thinks that matter should be concluded.
On the same day that Mr. Drown was back in court in the Environmental Court case, he was also arraigned on a new truck assault. He plead not guilty to unlawful trespass, negligent operation of a vehicle and reckless endangerment in Washington County criminal court in Barre. He faces a maximum of two years and three months in prison and a $2,500 fine in this new case.
According to the police affidavit, Mr. Drown drove onto the site of Martha Mahan’s business in the old engine house on Wall Street even though a no-trespass order bars him from the property. Mrs. Mahan started taking pictures of him on her property and when he saw her taking pictures he aimed his vehicle at her, stepped on the gas and was laughing, according to police.
Mrs. Mahan told police that Mr. Drown tried to dismantle a planter box made of railroad ties, using his truck and a cable. She tried to stop him and at that point, Mr. Drown tried to hit her with his truck, police said. Mrs. Mahan told police she had to jump into the planter to avoid being hit and was fearful for her life.
Police said that Mr. Drown told them that he had been assaulted by one of Mrs. Mahan’s “bodyguards” when he was trying to drive on his right of way. Police said they saw a small cut on his left thumb but no other obvious injuries.
He was released without the necessity of posting any bail.
This is the second alleged assault by Mr. Drown in his truck. In 2009, he was accused of intentionally hitting a flagger when she was temporarily not allowing traffic through because of a construction project on Wall Street. In that case, he faces charges of reckless or gross negligent operation of a vehicle, aggravated assault with a weapon, leaving the scene of a crash with property damage resulting, and reckless endangerment. In that case, Mr. Drown faces his second competency hearing in April before a new judge. He had the earlier judge on his case disqualified for what Mr. Drown claimed was undue prejudice against him.