FLYING "OLD GLORY" ?
BY CHRIS DOVI
Published March 29, 2003
Their flagpole came down Wednesday, but Richard Oulton and his wife, Ava, made one last appearance before Henrico County Circuit Judge L.A. Harris Jr. yesterday for a tongue lashing.
"I will not impose incarceration," said Harris, who in January gave Oulton until March 1 to remove the flagpole from in front of his home in Wyndham or face possible jail time. "But I do find you in contempt of court."
Harris said he personally felt contempt for Oulton's tactics throughout the case - particularly of Oulton's violation of his most recent order to remove the flagpole.
"It's about nothing more than about you complying with the covenants that you agreed to," Harris said, referring to rules established by Wyndham's neighborhood association related to erecting structures.
"The saddest thing about this entire case . . . is that you somewhat made a mockery of the people and the system you claim to honor."
Oulton's battle with the Wyndham Homeowners Association over his right to erect a flagpole in his front yard began in 1999. His court fight has gone as high as the Virginia and U.S. Supreme Courts. Both courts declined to interfere with Harris' ruling.
Yesterday, Harris gave Oulton 10 days "to purge yourself of this contempt," by paying his neighborhood association opponents $100 a day for each of the 24 days he was in violation of the judge's order.
Harris also ordered Oulton to pay an additional $8,799 in attorney's fees to Wyndham as well as the $150,000-plus he was already ordered to pay.
Oulton, who appeared humble and subdued in court, estimated he will have spent in excess of $250,000 on the case after he makes good on the judge's order.
"But it's worth it on principle," he said. "It was always about principle."
Oulton testified that while he did not take his flag down March 1, he did remove it in accordance with terms worked out in recent weeks with the neighborhood association. There was a delay, he admitted.
"We saw the Marines on television dying in Iraq and I just couldn't bring myself to take it down," Oulton told the court.
Oulton was represented in court by his neighbor, attorney Frank Taylor, who is also the neighborhood representative for Dominion View Estates, the section of Wyndham where both own their homes.
Before the hearing began, he said he was torn by Oulton's defiance of the association's rules, but said he felt the association was out of line in continuing to pursue the case after Oulton removed the pole Wednesday.
Oulton said he will honor the judge's decision but plans to continue his battle by working for changes in the law, either at the state or federal level.
After the hearing, Oulton conceded to a number of Harris' points.
"If the judge follows the laws of Virginia to the letter - and he does - he made the right decision," Oulton said. "Now we need to go back and change the laws of Virginia."
He did not agree with Harris that he was mocking the system: "Virginia's got a long history of people - lawyers even - going all the way back to 1776 who tried to stand up for what they believed in."