Civic group's legal fight hinges on door frame

June 13, 1993|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Staff Writer

Ann Lopez was getting water through the wooden fram around her front door when it rained hard. Three years ago, she replaced the frame with one made of cast cement for $1,000. That solved the water problem but created another one.

Now this Edmondson Heights woman, who has lived for 40 years in her three-bedroom home in the 1000 block of Harwall Road, could go to jail.

The Edmondson Heights Civic Association said the new frame was out of step with the neighborhood's wooden door frames and violated its covenants. The association took Ms. Lopez to court.

In November, Circuit Judge Edward A. DeWaters Jr. ruled in the association's favor and said any changes were governed by the association's covenants.

Judge DeWaters gave Ms. Lopez 30 days to submit a plan, and 60 days to tear out the new frame and replace it with a frame approved by the association.

Instead, Ms. Lopez submitted a letter to the association saying she couldn't afford to make the change.

On Thursday, Circuit Judge William Hinkel found her in contempt of court for not obeying Judge DeWaters' order.

But there was much angst along the way for Ms. Lopez, Judge Hinkel, and the association's lawyer, John W. Andrews Jr. Judge Hinkel listened as Ms. Lopez, representing herself, argued her case. Mr. Andrews objected.

"She's trying to reargue the case, and that time has passed, your honor," he said.

"Let her be heard," said Judge Hinkel, smiling and patient.

"It's unconstitutional to tell other people what to do with their homes," Ms. Lopez said during the hourlong hearing.

"You had your day in court in November," the judge replied. "The only thing I'm asked to decide is if you are in contempt. You could have appealed Judge DeWaters' decision, but now it's too late."

"But I haven't done anything wrong," said Ms. Lopez, who works full time for the Mass Transit Administration.

Judge Hinkel stopped smiling and put his head in his hands.

"Well, Mr. Andrews," he said, "you want me to put her in jail?"

"It's an unfortunate case," Mr. Andrews said. "She had the frame put in because she had seen others do it. I talked to my wife last night on the difficulty of this case."

"Let your wife make the decision then," the judge said. "I think the insistence on the association's part is inappropriate, but I can understand their action. My sympathy is not with the association.

"However, she is in contempt," he said. "I am going to give her 60 days to purge the contempt. In the meantime, I'm willing to meet with all parties as a mediator to settle this without further damage."

Ms. Lopez and the association have agreed to meet with Judge Hinkel.

"We are trying to be reasonable," said Tom Carbo, president of the association. "But we have a responsibility to enforce our covenants and restore appearances."

The association has brought legal action against two other neighbors, for an unauthorized fence and a door frame similar to the one Ms. Lopez has installed.

The jail term for contempt is up to the judge. Usually, the defendant is jailed until the contempt is purged. In this case, Ms. Lopez would have to replace her nearly new door frame.

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