Sinclair chairman broke restraining order and allegedly threatened neighbor

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The executive chairman of the Sinclair television group has run into trouble at courts in two states for his alleged conduct during disputes with neighbours.
David D Smith was temporarily barred from contacting a tenant on land that he owns in Maryland after he was accused of making threats, which he denies. He was separately found in contempt of court by a judge in Maine for breaching a restraining order.
Smith, 67, chairs the board of Sinclair Broadcasting, whose ownership of local television stations around the US has this week come under renewed scrutiny after many of its presenters read from identical scripts echoing Donald Trump’s attacks on the news media.
In a telephone interview, Smith denied wrongdoing. He said the tenant in Maryland was a dishonest “radical” who refused to vacate his property despite being offered a generous payout. He described the dispute in Maine as “a very common conflict” in the area.
“It’s ridiculous, but it is what it is,” Smith said of the Maryland incident. Of the dispute in Maine, he said: “It’s like I’m living in the Twilight Zone or something.”
Smith was placed under a temporary peace order by a judge in Baltimore county in March 2013, after a farmer who was leasing land from Smith formally accused him of threatening violence and destroying crops.
“I was threatened that I would not be farming the property and ‘I would be taken care of’,” the farmer, Stephen Pieper, said in his application for protection from the district court. Smith told the Guardian this was “utter, absolute nonsense” and noted that Pieper had himself been placed under a protective order for alleged domestic violence in 2007.
Judge Dorothy Wilson found there were reasonable grounds to believe that Smith had committed a malicious destruction of property and that he was “likely to commit a prohibited act” against Pieper. But Wilson declined to issue a longer-term peace order after a hearing the following month, stating that Pieper had failed to meet the required burden of proof.
Smith and Pieper engaged in a bitter legal dispute over the land, which Pieper was already leasing from its previous owner when it was bought by Smith in 2013. Smith owns a home valued by county authorities at $7m on a 33-acre estate nearby, which is a short car ride from Sinclair’s corporate headquarters.
In June 2015, a jury awarded Pieper $1.8m in damages, finding Smith unlawfully destroyed his crop “willfully and with malice”. But the jury’s decision was reversed by a judge, who said Smith had a legal right to take ownership of the land and evict Pieper.Smith has a limited risk of encountering other neighbours in his part of Maryland: over the past two decades he 

has steadily bought up at least 15 of the parcels of land around his rural estate. Public records indicate that Smith has often paid prices that were higher than face value to secure the properties, which total about 175 acres.
The Sinclair chairman served as chief executive of the company until last year.
He has also angered neighbours around a second home in a small coastal town outside Portland in Maine, which is valued at $2.2m by local authorities.
In October 2016, Smith was found in contempt of court after he removed a wooden post from the ground near the driveway of a neighbour. A prior court order had expressly forbidden him from removing any post near the property. Smith told the Guardian he had been unaware of the order and that in his view, the post was actually on his property.


Judge Lance Walker of Cumberland county superior court noted in his contempt ruling that the neighbour, Leslie Fissmer, testified that she “feels intimidated” by Smith and was concerned about what she called “his flagrant disregard of a lawful court order and what that might portend for her peace of mind”. Walker ordered Smith to pay legal fees and costs incurred by Fissmer.
The incident was a flashpoint in legal actions brought against Smith by Fissmer and later joined by five other neighbours. Fissmer opposed Smith’s plan to build a new house on his land. She and the other neighbours also object to attempts by Smith to redraw property boundaries on their street.
In September last year, Fissmer won a ruling at Maine’s supreme court that found Smith should not have been issued a permit for the new building by town authorities. The court found Smith had not satisfied regulations aimed at ensuring access to emergency vehicles. Smith said the house had been built and a new permit was recently issued.
According to the neighbours, Smith also claimed ownership of the paved lane they all used as a shared right of way, after a survey that he commissioned found that boundaries were being incorrectly enforced.
Smith “began drilling holes in the road and installing cones” that blocked the lane, according to the lawsuit, and he said the shared right of way actually ran through Fissmer’s property. Smith said he had merely abided by the legal deeds. The case is now expected to go to trial.
“He has been unneighbourly,” said Reed Gramse, one of the neighbours involved. “He’s making us all miserable and we wish he’d just go away.” An attorney for the neighbours declined to comment on the case.

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