SKOWHEGAN — A lawyer for the town of Fairfield asked a judge Monday to send Robert Dale, owner of Maine 201 Antiques, to jail for 30 days if his work to clean up what the town contends is a junkyard is not complete by Sept. 24.

Lawyer William “Bill” Lee, of Waterville, said if financial penalties levied against Dale haven’t been enough to move him into compliance with a March court order to clean up piles of debris, then a jail cell would be sufficient penalty.

“Did he have the ability to comply with some of these? Absolutely,” Lee told District Court Judge Andrew Benson. “We are a rule of law; without it we have nothing.”

Dale did pay $2,500 of the total amount owed Monday morning, but Lee called it too little too late.

Dale’s lawyer, Walter McKee of Augusta, protested, calling the idea of jail time a miscarriage of justice.

“It’s not realistic,” McKee told Benson, his voice rising. “He can’t do this in 30 days. He has been working and progress has been made.”

Benson asked Lee and McKee to each draft a proposed order or summary of their recommendations and to deliver the paperwork to him by Friday, Sept. 5. Benson would then have seven days to issue his ruling.

“I wasn’t shocked, but I was disappointed,” McKee said after the contempt of court hearing against Dale. “I think anybody that looks at this now has a better appreciation for just what it’s going to take to do all the work. Back in March, everyone was hopeful, but maybe it wasn’t realistic.”

Dale, who testified on his own behalf Monday, missed a June deadline imposed by a judge in March to clean up piles of junk on his property on U.S. Route 201 and has not paid fines and fees already accrued on the property.

Lee said Dale clearly is in contempt of the court order; the question now is what a sufficient penalty might be. Dale owes the town from the first court order almost $10,000 in legal fees.

In March, Dale agreed to settle the case brought against him by the town. He had until June 15 to clean up the property or face the hearing for contempt, which is a civil matter, not a criminal charge. Under the agreement, by missing the June 15 deadline, Dale incurred a $5,000 penalty and fines of $150 per day until the property is in compliance, Lee said.

“I think that the town proved its case,” Lee said, noting that it is not unusual for someone to be sent to jail for contempt of court orders in civil matters. “He has 30 days to clean up. He doesn’t go to jail if it’s cleaned up. It’s purged. You don’t serve it if you comply.”

McKee said Dale has spent close to $25,000 on storage trailers and trucking and worked hundreds of hours to clean up the property on which officials assessed seven fire and safety code violations. He asked Benson for more time for Dale to finish the work, which, he said, was delayed by cold temperatures in March and April, preventing Dale from doing outside work until May.

The yard surrounding the antique store has accumulated a lot of old stuff on the ground and in trailers, including old furniture, piles of windows, tools and metal since the town first took notice of the hazards in September 2012.

Fairfield Fire Chief Duane Bickford and Code Enforcement Officer Nicole Martin told the judge Monday that by not clearing emergency exits and fire routes, Dale was putting himself and anyone who visited the property in danger. A portfolio of 18 photographs of the property and debris was presented in court as evidence.

An order issued by the town June 20 forbids anyone other than Dale and his workers or helpers from entering the building.

Compounding the problem on the grounds of the business and inside Dale’s retail store and warehouse is the fact that he placed many of his collected items on the roof, through which he cut a hole to gain access.

Taking the stand in his own behalf Monday, Dale said he thought he could comply with the order to clean up, but the weather impeded his progress.

“I’m fully aware of what I have to do,” he said. “It’s a matter of being overwhelmed by the project.”

Dale said he is about 80 percent done cleaning up the outside of the building and that it would take about two weeks to get the inside of the building in compliance with fire and safety codes. He said the entire job could take anywhere from 30 days to two months to finally complete, which is why McKee asked the judge for more time to do work and no time in jail.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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