Courts again say the word 'stalking' is going too far in in Porter County labor dispute

A Liberty Township excavating company has been ordered by the courts to remove signs accusing a local union of stalking his family.

VALPARAISO — No one went to jail for contempt, and a sign and boulders at the heart of a recent flare-up in a local labor dispute have been removed.

But it is unclear how long the peace will hold, judging by a hearing Monday afternoon before Porter Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Clymer.

"When I give you a do-over, or mulligan, don't argue with me," Clymer said to attorney Jonathan O'Hara.

O'Hara, who is representing Davis & Sons Excavating, of Liberty Township, in a dispute with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, was verbally reprimanded by Clymer for his and his client's failure to comply with a court order to take down a sign accusing the union of stalking the Davis family.

Stalking refers to a criminal act, and use of that word amounts to defamation if someone has not been convicted of the offense, attorney Ken Elwood has said on behalf of the union.

The Indiana Department of Transportation recently won a court order in the same case to have Davis remove boulders from in front of his business along U.S. 6, arguing they are "a nuisance ... and pose a serious danger to Indiana motorists, including the risk of property damage, serious injury or death."

"If someone disregards my orders in the future, there will be sanctions," Clymer said, suggesting possible fines or jail time.

The judge told O'Hara he can amend his legal complaint in the case, which seeks to curb the actions of a union picket of the company at 155 W. U.S. 6. Clymer said he is considering whether to grant a request by the union to have the company pick up its legal fees.

While avoiding a contempt finding against him and his client, O'Hara appeared not to heed the judge's repeated warnings Monday to quit while he was ahead. He asked the judge, now that the temporary restraining orders no longer are in place, if there is anything stopping Davis & Sons from putting up another sign.

Clymer said the union likely would seek another temporary restraining order if the old sign is replaced.

"You're testing me," Clymer said to O'Hara. "Let's have a hearing now. You want me to make it permanent?"

When O'Hara went on to argue, among other points, that the union did not have a "valid cause of action" to seek the restraining order against the sign, his clients and their supporters burst out from the back of the courtroom that it was time to leave.

Elwood, the union's lawyer, said after the hearing that the sign at the business has been modified to replace the word "stalked" with "followed" and "bullied."

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.