Judge hears Edgewater owners argument for Walton County to be held in contempt over effort to declare customary use on its beach

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Lewis opted not to rule Thursday on a motion by Edgewater condominium homeowners seeking to have Walton County held in contempt of court.


The homeowners contend that a 2009 order drawn up to resolve a legal dispute between the county and the condominium complex clearly stated that the beaches behind Edgewater are private property dedicated to “the exclusive use of Edgewater’s owners and guests.”


The claim for contempt alleges the county violated its own agreement when it began efforts to have the same beach opened to the public through a declaration of customary use.


Kay Simpson, the attorney representing Edgewater, said the county violated the terms of its agreement twice and interfered with the rights of the condominium owners when it notified them of the plans to seek a declaration of customary use and a third time by including Edgewater’s beaches within the lawsuit.


“The county contends that somehow filing a complaint does not constitute interference,” Simpson told the court. “The filing of the lawsuit has already impacted the way Edgewater’s residents can use the beach.”


Since the county filed the customary use lawsuit, Walton County law enforcement no longer responds to remove beachgoers from the beaches behind the complex, Simpson said, and the county’s action has impacted the homeowner association’s ability to borrow money.


David Theriaque, the attorney for the county, argued that to argue for an entity to be held in contempt, a petitioner must prove a direct violation of a specific court order. Lewis agreed with the assessment and requested that Bradshaw present evidence indicating how the county had violated a clear court directive.


Theriaque also argued that the county’s effort to receive a declaration of customary use — that the county’s beaches should be considered public by virtue of their having been accessed for time immemorial — wasn’t so much an action against Edgewater but an action “seeking a court order to affirm an existing use that’s been in place for hundreds of years.”


In taking the arguments presented under advisement, Lewis stated he recognized the impact his ruling could have on a broader legal action being considered by fellow county judge David Green. He gave the attorneys for each side until Tuesday to provide him further documentation supporting their side of the arguments presented Thursday.


Green will hear arguments from a host of attorneys Tuesday on motions to dismiss the county’s overarching lawsuit seeking the declaration of customary use on 26 miles of Walton County beach.