NEW CUMBERLAND - Escalating a property dispute dating back to last year, Hancock County commissioners are asking for a court order to keep public access to Hancock County Magistrate Court open.
Court employees were greeted Wednesday morning by caution tape, orange spray paint and pylons, and "keep out" signs posted around the area between the court building and the office of attorney Lawrence Manypenny, who claims ownership of the land on which the court sidewalk and enclosed staircase sit.
The signs say "private property," but that remains an open question - until the matter can be settled in court. Some court patrons appeared bewildered by the barriers as they walked unimpeded past the building on Thursday.
PROPERTY POSTED — Caution tape, orange pylons and “keep out” signs were posted Wednesday between the law office of Lawrence Manypenny and Hancock County Magistrate Court, left. The property between the two buildings is the subject of an ongoing dispute between Manypenny and Hancock County commissioners. Commissioners are asking for a court order for the obstructions to be removed. - Stephen Huba
Commissioners declined to discuss the legal action they took on Wednesday, deferring questions to their legal counsel, assistant prosecutor Bill Fahey, who also declined comment. Manypenny could not be reached for comment.
But the motion filed Wednesday in Hancock County Circuit Court asserts that commissioners own the disputed piece of property and that Manypenny's office prepared the deeds more than 30 years ago.
The motion, filed against Manypenny and his wife, Connie, says the commissioners bought the land in three separate purchases in 1976 and 1982. "All said parcels were obtained through Lawrence Manypenny and his predecessor law firms performing the legal work thereon," it said.
Manypenny claims otherwise, stating in previous letters to the county commissioners that he owns the property in question. Manypenny wants to expand his offices and believes commissioners should compensate him for the use of the land he says is his.
In a November letter addressed to Fahey, Manypenny reiterated his claim of ownership and said he may take steps to exercise control over the property.
The commissioners' motion questions why Manypenny would make an issue of the property ownership matter now, after 30 years of the stairwell and sidewalk being used for ingress and egress. "The operation of the Magistrate Court is an essential governmental operation for Hancock County," it said.
To remedy the situation, the motions states that a "constructive easement" should be imposed to permit the public's continued use of the building or the county may have to exert eminent domain.
"(The Manypennys) are effectively obstructing justice by attempting to impede access to a Magistrate Court by its officials, its employees and the public at large who are entitled to the continued use of the structure," the motion said.
The motion asks Hancock County Circuit Court Judge James P. Mazzone for an immediate injunction ordering the removal of all "barriers, tapes, trespassing signs and any other obstruction to the sidewalk, the stairwell or the premises."
Manypenny's response included a letter asking for Mazzone to delay action until a full hearing on the matter can be held.
The motion also asks for a final determination to be made on the "proper boundary line" between the two buildings.