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Weidt v. State

Supreme Court of Wyoming

November 19, 2013

Shirley WEIDT, Appellee (Defendant),
v.
The STATE of Wyoming, Appellant (Plaintiff).

Page 1036

Representing Appellant: Office of the State Public Defender: Diane Lozano, State Public Defender; Tina N. Olson, Chief Appellate Counsel; Eric M. Alden, Senior Assistant Appellate Counsel. Argument by Mr. Alden.

Representing Appellee: Gregory A. Phillips, Wyoming Attorney General; David L. Delicath, Deputy Attorney General; Jeffrey Pope, Assistant Attorney General; Brian J. Fuller, Student Intern. Argument by Mr. Fuller.

Before KITE, C.J., and HILL, VOIGT, BURKE, and DAVIS, JJ.

Page 1037

DAVIS, Justice.

[¶ 1] Appellant Shirley Weidt was found guilty of indirect criminal contempt for failure to comply with an injunction and a nunc pro tunc amendment that allowed Sheridan County to enter her property and remove vehicles and trailers which violated county zoning ordinances. We find the evidence insufficient to support the conviction as a matter of law, and we therefore reverse and remand with directions to vacate.

ISSUES

[¶ 2] The Appellant identified numerous issues, but as we explain below, we will address only one of them because it is dispositive:

Did the State present sufficient evidence to prove criminal contempt beyond a reasonable doubt?

FACTS

[¶ 3] Shirley Weidt owns and resides on 40.76 acres just outside the unincorporated town of Banner in Sheridan County.[1] Her property is zoned for agricultural and residential use. Ms. Weidt has kept a number of inoperable automobiles and trailers that Sheridan County believes violate its zoning ordinances on the property for many years, and this has resulted in a bitter decades-old dispute. The County eventually filed a civil action seeking abatement of the claimed violation of its zoning ordinances and a public nuisance. It sought a mandatory injunction requiring Ms. Weidt to remove the offending vehicles and trailers, with an order authorizing the County to remove them at Ms. Weidt's expense if she failed to do so.

[¶ 4] Ms. Weidt represented herself in the abatement proceedings. After a bench trial, the district court entered " Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law" on May 17, 2012. It found that Ms. Weidt had at least thirty-six different automobiles, mobile homes, recreational vehicles, and trailers in various states of disrepair on the property. Many of the trailers were being used as chicken coops and goat houses, and almost all of the vehicles were inoperable. Three of the mobile homes were also owned by other individuals.

[¶ 5] The court held that many of these activities were not agricultural or residential, and that the use of the property exceeded applicable zoning density regulations. There was no evidence of prior non-conforming use, i.e., a use preceding the adoption of the county zoning regulations.

[¶ 6] The court granted an injunction and zoning abatement order which required Ms. Weidt to remove: (1) all automobiles except for two which were operable; (2) all mobile homes except Ms. Weidt's residence; (3) all recreational vehicles not used for that purpose; and (4) all trailers that were not roadworthy. The order provided that Ms. Weidt " shall have sixty (60) days from the date of this order to remove the above mentioned items. At the conclusion of that period, if the items have not been removed, the Plaintiff is authorized to enter the property and remove the items at the Defendant's sole cost and expense."

[¶ 7] An order nunc pro tunc containing the following language was entered on September 11, 2012:

Page 6, Paragraph 11 [of the previous order] shall be amended to include the following:
11. The Defendant shall have sixty (60) days from the date of this order to remove the above mentioned items. At the conclusion of that period of time if the items have not been removed, the Plaintiff is authorized to enter the property and remove the items at the Defendant's sole cost and expense. The Plaintiff obtains legal ownership of any items that it removes from the Property and shall dispose of the items in its discretion, with any profits resulting from the removal and disposal of the items above the costs of removal and disposal to be paid to the Defendant.

(emphasis in original).

[¶ 8] The drafter of the order utilized the common convention ...


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