Woman found in contempt, jailed over yard clutter

By Joe Beck

A Warren County woman was jailed Friday for the second time in less than five years over a violation of the county zoning ordinance.

Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp found Julia Souter of 471 Apple Jack Circle, Linden, in contempt of court and sentenced her to up to six months in jail for failing to clean up her yard that zoning officials had deemed too cluttered.

Assistant County Attorney Dan Whitten said Monday the contempt ruling stemmed from Souter’s refusal to comply with a court order dating from November 2010.

“She had continued to clutter up her property with numerous items,” Whitten said of Souter. “She had debris, an inoperative vehicle, and other refuse and material that aren’t meant to be outside in the weather.”

Whitten said the refrigerators kept in her yard posed a hazard to children who might venture into them.

The refrigerators and items such as microwave ovens and other appliances are also an “attractive nuisance” for wildlife, Whitten said.

Souter has battled the county in federal and state courts over the zoning ordinance and its enforcement. A lawsuit she filed in June in U.S. District Court in Harrisionburg contends the zoning ordinance is unconstitutional.

In her complaint, Souter, who is representing herself, asks the federal court to order an investigation of the county under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, informally known as RICO.

“I am not an attorney, but I bet a real good attorney could find additional reasons to declare much of the statutes above unconstitutional,” Souter wrote in her federal complaint.

In a letter to U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski dated Aug. 9, Souter asked that her lawsuit be placed “on hold.”

“Please be advised that the county of Warren via the zoning department and Mr. Dan Whitten have caused me to be placed in jail,” she wrote.

Whitten said Souter can be released before the six-month sentence is up if she can find someone to clean up her yard to the satisfaction of county zoning officials.

Whitten said the county cleaned up the property in March 2012, held an auction for items that were taken away and placed a lien on Souter’s property to cover the cost of the auction.

But the yard quickly filled up again in the intervening months, Whitten said.

“Her house is filled from floor to ceiling with stuff,” Whitten said. “It’s like she has no more room to store stuff inside, so she stores stuff outside where it’s sitting in the elements.”

Whitten said Souter is the only person he knows of who has been jailed for a zoning violation since he started his job in 2010.

Souter was also jailed from November 2008 to March 2009 on a similar offense, Whitten said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com