Suit fans an old feud

Couple-vs.-couple clashes span 8 years

January 21, 2007|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,[sun reporter]

They're at it again.

David and Donna Elliott, a party in an eight-year feud that has spawned more than a dozen criminal cases and required more than 100 visits to their street by Howard County police, have sued their neighbors for suing them.

In the Jan. 11 filing, the Elliotts demand compensation for the costs associated with what they called Timothy and Barbara Cerny's "frivolous claims" and $250,000 in damages.

The complaint contends that the Cernys' 2002 suit was based on "bald, unsubstantiated and untrue allegations" that the Elliotts had anonymously reported in an e-mail to Social Services that the Cernys were abusing and neglecting their only daughter.

The state concluded that the abuse allegations were unfounded, and the Cernys began to go after the anonymous writer, whose identity remains a mystery. In the 2002 suit against the Elliotts, which a judge dismissed, the Cernys subpoenaed Microsoft and hired a computer forensics expert to try to unearth the author.

"Despite the Cernys' utter and complete failure to set forth any facts to support their contention against the Elliotts," the Cernys pursued them as if they were the authors, the most recent lawsuit alleges.

The Elliotts' attorney, Harry B. Siegel, declined to comment.

The Cernys and the Elliotts have lived next door to each other on Swift Current Way in Columbia's River Hill Village since 1999, and the animosity between the two couples began before their virtually identical homes were constructed.

The Cernys had moved their 3,352-square-foot home closer to the street to make room for a backyard pool.

The Elliotts, however, live on a flag lot behind them, named for its narrow, pole-like entrance and flag-shaped rear area. The layout of the lots would make the Cernys' backyard pool appear to be in the Elliotts' front yard.

After the Elliotts filed protests with the River Hill Community Association regarding items in the Cernys' backyard, including a row of pine trees necessary for later approval of the pool, both parties initiated a series of counterattacks. They included assault charges and the Cernys placing a set of tacky white lawn chairs close to the front of the Elliotts' door.

The most recent case is the third civil lawsuit in the dispute.

Barbara Cerny, 47, a marketing consultant, said Friday that she had not seen the Elliotts' lawsuit, learned of it only a few days ago and could not comment on it until she received a copy. Timothy Cerny is a financial adviser.

The Cernys provided The Sun with a copy of a letter Timothy Cerny called a "peace offering" that their attorney sent to the Elliotts last week. In it, the Cernys offered to pay the Elliotts' costs associated with the lawsuits involving the Social Services e-mail if the Elliotts will help them find the true author.

The Elliotts -- David Elliott is a college basketball referee and Donna Elliott a Howard County public school teacher -- have said that they did not write the e-mail.

"Both the Cernys and the Elliotts have stated that they just wish to be left alone," the Cernys' attorney, Dwight W. Clark, wrote. "In order to accomplish this seemingly insurmountable feat, the Cernys feel that they need to bring closure to the one underlying incident which has been troubling their minds and hearts" -- the author of the e-mail.

Robert L. Baum, a Rockville lawyer who helped establish the U.S. Interior Department's mediation program, said that the parties need to return to mediation, which was tried in 2002.

This time around, Baum said, the neighbors should employ mental health counselors during the several hourlong sessions to keep them focused on what matters to them and not the "emotional baggage that comes along with this kind of issue."

"The pool incident has become nothing," Baum said. "They're really fighting because of all of the other collateral damage that has been done. The Cernys are trying to bring closure to it. The letter is grasping at a way to do that."

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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