FARMINGTON — A Franklin County Superior Court judge has upheld two previous court rulings, ending an 11­-year land access dispute in Strong.

The case involves the Voter and Lambert families, who disagreed about access over Dickey Road, which was discontinued by the town about 60 years ago.

Under the latest court order, the Voters may no longer access the Dickey Road. In addition, with the exception of two members of the family who live in Connecticut and who were dismissed from the suit, the family was fined $10,000 to compensate the Lamberts for damage. The Voters were also ordered to pay all of the Lamberts’ attorney fees since 2009.

When the town discontinued the road, it did not retain any easements or rights of way. State law allows a road to revert to property owners on both sides after discontinuation.

The Lamberts had long allowed casual use of the road by the Voter family, as well as the two logging roads off the Dickey Road, because they provided convenient access to about 200 acres of woodland and family lots.

In 2004, Eunice Voter Shurtleff filed a building notification with the town to construct a camp and began using the Dickey Road to transport materials and various pieces of construction equipment to her lot.

The Lamberts said she didn’t have a right of way for that level of use, but she said didn’t need one.

In 2004, the Lamberts hired Farmington attorney Frank Underkuffler to perform a title search on the properties to determine who had legal access. In July, he sent a letter to members of the Voter and Shurtleff families, stating they had no public or private easement over the Dickey Road or the two adjoining woods roads.

He included names of owners who did have a deeded, private right of way, including Thorndike & Sons Inc. He said the Lamberts planned to gate the road and provide a key for those with deeded access. The Lamberts also agreed, Underkuffler wrote, to allow the Voters and Shurtleffs brief continued access to work on their camp only to make it weather­tight.

Several members of the Voter family filed a lawsuit against Roger and Kathy Lambert, asking for access over the Dickey Road.

In 2005, the Voters and Shurtleffs hired attorney Steven Chute to file a lawsuit against the Lamberts, claiming they had easement rights. They also sought to add the town of Strong to the suit, but were denied in 2007. In May 2008, Franklin County Superior Court Judge Michaela Murphy ruled that the Voters had neither easements nor rights of way over the Lamberts’ property and should not try to gain access in the future.

Murphy also issued an injunction that barred the family and any of their “heirs and assigns” from attempting to acquire access at any time in the future.

The Voters filed an appeal with the Maine Supreme Court, which was rejected by a panel of seven judges in December 2008. While that decision was pending, they continued to use the Dickey Road and two woods roads to build their camp, cutting approximately 20 trees and making modifications to the roads.

In 2009, Wendall Voter purchased a 3.6-acre lot on the Dickey Road from Thorndike & Sons Inc. He hired Wilton attorney Ron Aseltine to execute the deed and had Aseltine draw up permanent leases for 38 of his relatives. Eunice Shurtleff and family members constructed a camp on the property in 2013, allowing their family and friends to pass by the Lamberts’ house and drive onto the Dickey Road.

The Lamberts filed a contempt of court lawsuit and, during a three-day hearing in September, Judge William Stokes listened to testimony from witnesses for both sides. Aseltine testified that, in his opinion, the previous court orders possibly could be interpreted to allow Wendall Voter and his 38 lessees to obtain new legal access over the Lamberts’ property by purchasing Thorndikes’ land and accompanying right of way.

On Nov. 10, Stokes issued a decision that upheld the original Franklin County Superior Court and Maine Supreme Court decisions. He noted that Wendall Voter, brothers Milton and Vernon Voter, sister Eunice Shurtleff, and nephew James Voter claimed the original decision by Judge Murphy was unconstitutional and biased against them and that 2009 decision was “at the heart of the present controversy.”

“The Law Court’s denial of their appeal was and continues to be a bitter disappointment to the Voters,” he wrote. “Their profound opposition to the referee’s reports and the subsequent judicial actions adopting and affirming them, has been intense and vocal.”

The Voters “decided to pursue a strategy of self­-help,” he noted, and “by doing so, they accepted the risk that their conduct would be found to violate the Order and Judgment of May 14, 2008.”

The court was not persuaded, he noted, that the Dickey Road “is the only passable access” to Wendall Voter’s land.

“It may be the most direct and convenient access to the property for the Voters, but it is not the “only passable access,” he wrote.

He ordered the Voters to terminate the leases that referenced access over the Lamberts’ property on the Dickey Road within 30 days or face a $500­ per­ day fine.

With the exception of James and Milton Voter, he also ordered them to pay a $10,000 compensatory fine for “loss of enjoyment and use of the Lambert Real Estate,” and all of the Lamberts’ attorneys’ fees and court costs back to 2009.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. The town’s decision to discontinue the Dickey Road had nothing to do with maintenance of the road.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.