If you're keeping score at home, Round 1 of the Fire Ridge golf dispute goes to Fire Ridge.
A judge on Friday refused to issue a restraining order against a real estate agent and former Fire Ridge Homeowners Association board member who joked about hitting golf balls into homeowner Eric Marsh's pool and house.
The real estate agent and former board member, Julie Tartaglia, had said the emails were jokes. The emails referred to Fire Ridge's ongoing dispute over the $300,000-plus playground and putting green Marsh installed in his backyard and an adjacent lot.
Marsh had requested a restraining order, saying Tartaglia's emails constituted threats.
Douglas County District Judge Timothy Burns disagreed.
“While I can understand Marsh's perspective that the emails sent by Tartaglia were offensive to him, this does not change the fact that Tartaglia did not intend in any way for her emails to be taken literally,” Burns wrote. “Marsh has presented no evidence to dissuade this court from finding otherwise.”
In turn, the judge tossed Marsh's lawsuit like a golfer tosses a ball into water.
But his decision promises to be just the practice round of a bigger bout over whether Marsh gets to keep his backyard wonderland. Marsh says he invested between $300,000 and $400,000 on his playground — complete with an infinity edge pool, tetherball pole, hog-roasting pit, basketball hoop, sport court and artificial-turf putting green and tee boxes.
The project near 195th and Jackson Streets raised eyebrows among homeowners who either loved or loathed its placement in the 10-year-old neighborhood.
In a separate lawsuit, the homeowners association claims that the project didn't adhere to plans Marsh submitted to the board. Marsh disagrees and promises to fight to keep his playground. The two sides have not had a hearing in that case.
In the email case, Burns told Marsh's attorney last month that he was “dubious” of Marsh's need for a restraining order. Nonetheless, the judge heard testimony from both sides.
Tartaglia testified at the hearing that tensions were building over the playground — as some neighbors questioned whether Marsh was hitting golf balls on his property.
Marsh had written to the board: “The appropriate response regarding whether I (or anyone else) hit golf balls should have been, 'The FireRidge HOA Board does not have the authority nor desire to regulate what our residents do inside their own yards or within each other's yards.' Your failure to respond this way continues your harrassment (sic) of me in a way you are not harrassing (sic) any other resident.”
To that, Tartaglia wrote back:
“For the love of all things holy!! I say we go ... hit (golf) balls all at once into his pool for no less than the time it takes to have 100 go in and clog the filter system that I am sure cost more than most vehicles. Game on buddy!”
She followed that email with another: “Sorry for that. I knee jerked. (However I am polishing my clubs. I did win an award for best female drive at a scramble last week. :0) Be a shame if I accidentally hit a window or two or three. But then it wouldn't matter since we don't have any say in what someone does on someone else's property. Whoops and oh well.”
Tartaglia said she deleted Marsh's name from the email thread so he wouldn't receive either email. But she didn't realize that Marsh had copied his attorney, James McVay, on the original email.
So Tartaglia's email went to McVay, who forwarded it to Marsh.
Marsh characterized the emails as a “crime” in the planning stages. He said he took the “threat” so seriously that he spent $18,000 installing security cameras to overlook his property.
Tartaglia's attorney, David Welch, questioned how Marsh could feel threatened, saying Tartaglia's comments “clearly” were a joke.
Welch said Tartaglia is pleased with the decision. Welch also is representing Fire Ridge in its lawsuit against Marsh.
“Julie just wants to be done with that,” Welch said. “This is something that never should have been filed by the plaintiff. Now we'd like to work out the other lawsuit amicably.”
Marsh stood by his concerns over Tartaglia's emails. However, he said, he will now turn his focus to keeping his wonderland as is.
“I'm going to continue to fight,” he said. “Homeowners associations can't do this to people.”
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