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Judge sued for alleged malicious prosecution


Periwinkle Art_MAINA Botetourt County judge is accused of malicious prosecution after a boundary dispute with a neighbor escalated into criminal charges.

General District Judge William H. Cleaveland is named in an $850,000 lawsuit accusing him of using his influence as a judge to have his neighbor arrested and booked for mowing the lawn on a disputed patch of land.

The lawsuit grows out of a three-year legal battle between Cleaveland and his neighbor, Michael J. Vaughn. Cleaveland and his wife first sued in 2013 to have a shed and a child’s swing removed from Vaughn’s property under neighborhood restrictive covenants.

Vaughn said he removed the shed and the swing, but he resisted Cleaveland’s ongoing bid for attorneys’ fees.

Later in 2013, the Cleavelands asserted their claim to the disputed piece of property, described as a “0.089 Acre Parcel.” That acreage would cover about 3,877 square feet.

In their pending circuit court suit, the Cleavelands say that they have had exclusive possession of the parcel since 1992 and have planted trees, grass and landscaping, including periwinkle. The Cleavelands contend that any other landowners with interest in that parcel lost that interest by adverse possession.

The Cleavelands’ adverse possession claim has not been resolved.

The land dispute took a turn on April 1 last year, when Vaughn acknowledges he mowed his lawn, including the disputed parcel.

Later that day, Cleaveland had a county magistrate issue two arrest warrants, accusing Vaughn of trespassing and damaging property, Vaughn’s suit alleges.

One of the misdemeanor warrants charged Vaughn with intentionally destroying or damaging “cover vegetation” belonging to Cleaveland, apparently referring to the periwinkle.

Although the misdemeanor papers could have been served by summons, Cleaveland, “using the power and influence of his office,” demanded that arrest warrants be issued to ensure Vaughn’s “physical arrest, embarrassment and disgrace,” Vaughn claims in his suit.

Vaughn said deputies arrested him that evening in front of his family, hauling him to the county jail for fingerprinting and photographs. Vaughn says he had to post a $1,000 bond to be released.

A special prosecutor appointed for the case later dropped the charges against Vaughn. A judge entered orders of nolle prosequi on May 18 last year, according to court records.

In his lawsuit filed Sept. 15, Vaughn said the charges and the arrest injured his credit and reputation, among other damages. He asks for $500,000 in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages.

No trial date has been set.

Cleaveland is represented by J. Scott Sexton of Roanoke who declined comment on behalf of Cleaveland.

Vaughn is represented by Christopher K. Kowalczuk of Roanoke.

“Mr. Vaughn believes in the rule of law and he hopes he will be vindicated,” Kowalczuk said.