Restraining orders granted in goat-fueled dispute
December 19, 2008 · Updated 4:46 PM
What first seemed like a tale of a girl and the plight of her goats has ended up in court as an ongoing dispute between embattled neighbors.
Recent hearings at the Bainbridge Municipal Court brought to a head several boundary-line disputes, harassment allegations and complaints and alleged retaliations that have gone on for years between neighbors and the married couple Malcolm Gander and Melanie Keenan.
Neighbors of Keenan and Gander have tired in various ways to get the couple to get rid of a pair of goats, tended by their daughter, Maddie, that are kept on the couple’s property in the Rolling Bay area of the island.
For at least two years, the animals and the feeding areas in which they live have been at the center of disputes between their neighbors, the City of Bainbridge Island and Kitsap County Health District.
On Wednesday, Bainbridge Municipal Court Judge Kathryn Carruthers ruled that actions by Gander and Keenan over the years constituted harassment and granted neighbors restraining orders.
The two separate petitions for restraining orders against Keenan and Gander, one filed by Elina Yeager and another by Karen Keefe, were heard jointly at Bainbridge Municipal Court.
Yeager and Keefe, the petitioners, claim they have received sustained harassment over the years from Gander and Keenan.
They were represented by Seattle-based estate attorney Karen Bertram, while Gander and Keenan (the respondents) were represented by island land-use attorney Dennis Reynolds.
Both attorneys acknowledged during the hearing that the case had some peculiar elements.
“Bainbridge Island has all the problems and tensions of every other community, but here it’s all on steroids,” Reynolds said.
Bertram and her clients brought forward a list of allegations that they said supported their right to have a restraining order placed against the defendants.
The complaints included alleged activities such as surveillance, dumping of waste on the property line, aggressively wielding a chainsaw and trespassing.
The case also involved numerous land-use issues, many of which stem from a 2006 settlement agreement between the defendants, Yeager and a separate property owner.
“These people are obsessed with controlling property they do not own,” Reynolds said of the petitioners.
Reynolds’ clients argued they were the victims of harassment, citing garbage they had found thrown in their yard and verbal abuse they had taken from neighbors.
By-in-large, Judge Carruthers decided against hearing what she considered speculation by the respondents on why restraining orders were being brought against them.
“I don’t want to hear speculation on ulterior motives. We’re not here to decide on suspicions,” she said, stressing that the objective of the hearing was to address complaints brought forward by the petitioners.
Although the court was addressing allegations of harassment, the issue of the goats was brought up numerous times during the hearing.
Reynolds continually denounced the involvement of the city in the neighbors’ wishes to have the goats removed. Previously the city had attempted to disallow a goat pen on the the respondents’ property because, the city contended, it did not conform to code regarding setbacks from adjoining properties.
“When the city receives a complaint, it’s like they make the person who complains a client,” Reynolds said.
At one point during the hearing, the petitioners presented a 90-minute video tape of the defendants’ goats bleating over a three-day period.
While Bertram presented the video as an example of the noise the goats created in the neighborhood, Reynolds argued that the court needed to watch the entire video to show that it was not a constant nuisance as described by the plaintiffs.
“It’s ridiculous...he has turned this proceeding into a circus,” Bertram said of Reynolds after the hearing. “He’s monopolized three entire afternoons of testimony.”
On the third and final day of hearings, the defendants made a conciliatory move, stating they had sold their goats to the American Dairy Goat Association.
Still, Judge Carruthers granted a permanent anti-harassment protection order to the petitioners.
The stipulations of the restraining order prohibited the defendants from dumping waste on the property line, surveilling their neighbors, using a chainsaw (except for the “legitimate purpose of cutting wood”), allowing any farm animals to be within 150 feet of the couple’s southern property line and allowing any animal noise to go on for “more than 15 minutes.”
“It didn’t feel like things were going our way,” Reynolds said after the decision was handed down. “I can tell you for sure we will appeal. I’m always a believer if you think you’re right you’ll just appeal.”
Bertram was convinced her clients were vindicated, saying that years of dispute had finally been resolved.
“The facts speak for themselves,” Bertram said. “I think justice has been served and that’s the bottom line.”