Hancock County property dispute heads to court

NEW CUMBERLAND – A property dispute between Hancock County commissioners and attorney Lawrence Manypenny most likely will be settled in court.

Both parties in the dispute appeared Wednesday morning before visiting Circuit Court Judge David W. Hummel Jr. of Marshall County. Hancock County Circuit Court judges have recused themselves from the case.

“This thing’s simply not going to go away on its own,” Hummel said.

In the meantime, Hummel said the public’s access to Hancock County Magistrate Court must be maintained. Manypenny claims ownership of the land up to and including the Magistrate Court sidewalk and enclosed staircase. The court building and Manypenny law office are next door to each other.

On Feb. 6, Manypenny’s office erected caution tape, orange pylons and “no trespassing” signs on the strip of land between the two buildings. That same day, county commissioners filed a motion for an injunction against Manypenny and his wife, Connie, asking that the barriers be taken down.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Manypenny’s law partner, James Carey, said the barriers did not physically obstruct access to the court building, but simply delineated the property boundary lines.

“No one was prevented from showing up at Magistrate Court,” Carey said.

Hummel said surveyor’s tape in front of a Magistrate Court side door should be taken down. The door is used by a deputy clerk for ingress and egress when court is in session, said Hancock County Assistant Prosecutor William Fahey, representing the commissioners.

Fahey said the county has an interest in keeping Magistrate Court “open and functioning until we can fully adjudicate the matter.”

Commissioners, in their motion for an injunction, are challenging Manypenny’s claim of ownership, saying the property in question has been used for Magistrate Court business for 30 years.

Fahey said the legal doctrine of “adverse possession” may apply. In cases of adverse possession, courts sometimes recognize the longtime occupant of a piece of property as the rightful owner.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Hummel asked Fahey to draft a new complaint and state clearly the county’s legal grounds for seeking relief in court. “Quite frankly … I find the petition inartfully drafted and woefully inadequate.” Fahey apologized, saying he prepared the paperwork hurriedly on the same day the barriers were erected.

Manypenny has until March 11 to respond to the amended complaint.

(Huba can be contacted at shuba@reviewonline.com)