CHARLESTON – Hampshire Circuit Judge Andrew Frye went overboard when he held Sylvia Catron in contempt for violating an injunction, according to the state Supreme Court of Appeals.
The five Justices agreed that Frye abused his discretion in seeking to punish Catron for actions she took before he signed the injunction.
Although the Justices vindicated Catron's claim that she did not disobey the court, they rejected her appeal to lift the injunction.
Under the injunction, Catron cannot obstruct or close Mountaintop Road or Lake Road in the Capon Bridge Resort subdivision off County Road 15. Catron owns three parcels in the subdivision and a tract that residents call the barn tract.
The barn tract extends to the middle of Mountaintop Road. A tract that residents call the church tract extends to the middle from the other side.
For 30 years, residents have entered the subdivision on Mountaintop Road. Residents have also used Lake Road, which traverses Catron's barn tract.
The roads did not match the plat. Catron asked the property owners association if she could change the roads to match the plat. No one voted against her.
At her own expense, Catron built new roads for all to use.
In 2004, neighbor Lyon Chapman and his son Scott Chapman filed a complaint alleging Catron closed their rights of way.
New Testament Faith Assembly of God joined the complaint. The church erected barriers on Mountaintop Road.
Frey entered a temporary order restraining Catron from further work on the roads except to make them passable.
Catron moved to lift the injunction. She moved for an order to remove the barriers. Frye denied her motions.
In September 2004, Frye granted a permanent order restraining her from relocating either road. He ordered the church to remove the barriers.
In 2005, the Chapmans petitioned for contempt. Frye entered the order, finding that Catron damaged properties and did not return them to their original condition.
Frye gave Catron 60 days to put everything back as it was.
Catron appealed, by Loudoun Thompson of Romney. Donald Cookman of Romney represented the Chapmans.
After the Justices heard arguments, they took barely a month to reverse Frye's contempt order.
"The circuit court made only one finding which would lend to its finding of contempt, which was that Ms. Catron had installed a waterline across the roadway and did not return the road to its original condition," they wrote in an unsigned opinion. "It should be noted, though, that that act occurred before the injunction was in place."
They wrote that Chapman did not present a shred of evidence to support a contempt petition beyond pictures which were taken at a time preceding the injunction.
"To the contrary," they wrote, "Ms. Catron produced the testimony of several witnesses –- all residents of the subdivision -– who testified that the roadway was not obstructed and that, to their minds, the roadway had been restored to its original condition."
On the other hand, they held that permission from the owners association did not give her the right to impede anyone's complete enjoyment of their land.