On March 6, 2024

Vt. Supreme Court rejects Daniel Banyai’s appeal

By Ethan Weinstein/VTDigger

The Vermont Supreme Court on Friday, March 1, upheld contempt sanctions imposed on Daniel Banyai, owner of the former Pawlet weapons training facility Slate Ridge. 

The court heard oral arguments in the appeal in January. Banyai, who faces an ongoing arrest warrant for failing to comply with orders to remove unpermitted structures on his property, was not present for that hearing. 

“The contempt sanctions the Environmental Division imposed are entitled to full enforcement,” wrote Associate Justice Harold Eaton Jr. in a decision posted Friday, finding that Banyai’s arguments, which targeted an already finalized decision by the lower court, were an “impermissible collateral attack.”

Robert Kaplan, Banyai’s lawyer, had argued that the environmental court imposed “punitive” rather than “coercive” sanctions by levying more than $100,000 in fines against his client and potentially allowing for Banyai to be jailed until Pawlet officials could bring his property into compliance. 

Merrill Bent, Pawlet’s attorney, argued that the ostensibly punitive nature of the sanctions, as Kaplan described them, had nevertheless failed to result in the deconstruction of unpermitted structures on the property.

In turn, she posed to the court whether Banyai was free to “defy court orders” and “endlessly litigate.”

The high court, in its decision, found that Banyai did not have grounds to challenge the contempt sanctions at all.

Banyai “never challenged the February 2023 contempt order or denial of reconsideration by a timely direct appeal to this Court,” reads the order, and thus his arguments against the sanctions now are “impermissible.”

“The Town is pleased that the Supreme Court has once again upheld its legal position and the trial court’s considered decisions in this challenging case,” Bent wrote in an email to VTDigger. “The Town will be reviewing the options to finally bring the community closure on this matter.”

In an email Friday, Kaplan, Banyai’s attorney, said his client “is very disappointed that the Supreme Court chose not to address the important issues raised by his appeal.”

“Mr. Banyai is evaluating the implications of this decision and determining the best path forward,” Kaplan wrote.

As part of the outstanding warrant for Banyai’s arrest, Vermont State Police and the Rutland County sheriff are required to inform the Environmental Court every 30 days of their attempts to arrest the Pawlet landowner.

Those most recent reports, from Feb. 2, indicate state police performed 29 checks on Banyai’s property during the last 30-day window in an attempt to locate him. 

“We have continued to act on tips received from the public that are brought to our attention,” wrote state police Lt. Douglas Norton.

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