PAWLET — Daniel Banyai plans to appeal an Environmental Court ruling ordering him to shut down his firearms training school, demolish any unpermitted buildings associated with it, and pay the town $46,000.
A notice of appeal was filed with the Vermont Supreme Court on May 11 by Banyai’s attorney, Cindy Hill, of Hill Attorney PLLC, based in Middlebury.
Banyai has represented himself up until this point.
According to Hill’s notice, she intends to ask the Vermont Supreme Court to look at whether or not due process abrogated with regards to landowner notification, whether the Environmental court overstepped its authority and abused its discretion with assessing fines, whether it did the same in finding that Banyai’s activities on his property constituted a change of use, and whether the Environmental Court violated Banyai’s property rights by saying the town could require him to seek permits for activities he was already allowed to do.
Pawlet’s attorney, Merrill Bent, filed a docketing statement arguing against Hill’s request that the matter go before the full Vermont Supreme Court. Her filing says an expedited three-panel review is more appropriate.
“Appellant asserts no basis for disposition by the full Court,” she wrote, arguing that the issues identified by Hill hadn’t been raised before, that there’s been no new law or way to apply the law to any new facts, that there are no legal issues of public interest, no call to criticize an existing law, and does not resolve a conflict between courts.
Bent stated in an email that Hill has until July 19 to file a brief. Bent will have 21 days after that to respond, and then Hill gets 14 days to file a response to that. Either side can request an oral argument. Bent said it’s difficult to predict how long it will take the court to issue a decision.
“The Environmental Court did defer ruling on the motion for contempt until the appeal is done,” Bent stated. “In the event that Mr. Banyai persists in violating the Court’s orders, we may ask the Court to revisit it. We do think the Court has the authority to enforce its own injunction when an appeal is pending, because the rules state that injunctions stay in effect even if an appeal is filed unless a stay is granted. No stay has been requested or granted in this instance.”
According to court records, Banyai bought 541 Briar Hill Road in West Pawlet in 2013, but it wasn’t until 2017 that he began operating the Slate Ridge firearms school there. The town claims he did so without the necessary permits.
Banyai’s relationship with the town and his neighbors has been strained, with neighbors reporting they feel threatened by his behavior.
On Wednesday, Vermont State Police said they had received reports of someone believed to be Banyai recording video of the homes and businesses of some town officials. Police spoke to Banyai, who told them he was recording the community. Police said they determined that no crime had been committed. On May 25, Pawlet Select Board Chair Michael Beecher emailed Planning Commission Chair Jessica Van Oort telling her that Banyai had been seen recording near the homes and business of commission members and Development Review Board members.
A Development Review Board hearing was slated for Thursday to hear an appeal on a permit Banyai had been granted for a shed. The appeal was filed by Richard Hulett, a Select Board member and neighbor to Banyai.
Durkin took note in his decision of Banyai’s behavior with the court and dealings with town officials, writing that he’s been unduly confrontational and combative. The decision also mentioned Slate Ridge social media posts, specifically one where a vehicle was marked with “Hulett Trucking” and shot by a firearm.
Hulett’s wife, Many Hulett, applied for a restraining order against Banyai. Mandy Hulett told the court of a Slate Ridge social media post where the page was asking for a vehicle for use in firearms training that matched the make and model of one the Huletts had purchased for their daughter.
At a Dec. 16, 2020, merits hearing, Banyai refused to testify at cross-examination and didn’t participate in the rest of the hearing.