NEW CUMBERLAND - An ongoing property dispute between the Hancock County commissioners and New Cumberland attorney Lawrence Manypenny is threatening to spill over into the political arena.
Manypenny claims part of the property on which the Hancock County Magistrate Court sits, including the sidewalk that leads to the entrance, is actually his property. The magistrate court building, 110 S. Court St., New Cumberland, is adjacent to his office, 106 S. Court St. A small lawn separates the two buildings.
Manypenny wants to expand his offices and believes commissioners should compensate him for the use of the land he says is his, according to a letter addressed to commissioners dated Aug. 29.
In a letter to county attorney Bill Fahey dated Nov. 28, Manypenny reiterates his claim of ownership and ups the ante by saying he may take steps to exercise control over the property.
"I have no intention of a newly elected magistrate crossing my property to go up stairs on my property to go to work," Manypenny said, in an apparent reference to outgoing Hancock County sheriff and newly elected Magistrate Mike White. "I have been fair with the county and that has gotten me nowhere."
Manypenny did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.
The dispute between the commissioners and the attorney dates back to at least March 2009, when Manypenny's wife, Connie, was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of willful disruption of governmental process for putting a locking car tire "boot" on a Weirton Police cruiser.
The cruiser had parked in a Manypenny & Carey law firm spot while the officer was taking a prisoner to magistrate court next door. The law firm parking spaces are marked with signs that say "towing/booting enforced," and vehicles parked in the spaces but on magistrate business have been locked by law firm personnel in the past.
Connie Manypenny, who has a nonprofit business in her husband's office, was arrested and booked by sheriff's deputies after the incident. The case was set for trial and then languished in the courts until November 2011, when it was dismissed. Manypenny pleaded no contest to a citation for disorderly conduct, agreed to pay court costs and forfeited the boot in lieu of a fine.
White, who takes office as the newest of three magistrates on Jan. 1, believes the property dispute is at least partly related to Manypenny's wife's arrest.
Regardless, White said he plans to assume his duties as planned. He just completed a week's worth of training for new West Virginia magistrates. "I'm an elected official. I'll be in my office. I'm not going to let this obstruct me," he said.
Commissioner Jeff Davis said he doesn't think Manypenny will actually try to prevent White from going to his office. "It depends on how far Larry would want to push this," he said. "He doesn't want people to walk on that sidewalk."
Last week, commissioners asked Fahey to investigate the property ownership question and come back with a recommendation. Both parties in the dispute say they have surveys on their side.
In his most recent letter, Manypenny cites a survey done by Weirton Surveyor Charles Carlisle and one done in 2009 and concludes that the property is his. "It is clear beyond a shadow of a doubt my property line extends virtually to the Magistrate brick building on the East and into the parking lot on the North," he said.
Manypenny said he also reviewed "with a magnifying glass" a survey provided by county commissioners. Davis said another survey may be in order.
"I'm not disputing whether it belongs to Mr. Manypenny or the county," Davis said. "I'll go with the recommendation (of Fahey) as to how the county will react."
In 2003, a report by the West Virginia Courthouse Facilities Improvement Authority recommended the magistrate court building be demolished, the area converted into a parking lot and the offices moved to a new judicial annex.
The study cited a lack of parking spaces as one reason for the proposed demolition.
Manypenny, in his most recent letter, suggests that commissioners have enough money to purchase his square footage "by Dec. 13" since they have a deal pending with the Hancock County school board to buy two high school football stadiums for $400,000. It is unclear what the significance of the date is.
"If not," Manypenny said, "I intend to do what is necessary to protect my interest. ... I am as serious as death. It is now or never."