An empty lawn on the Fourth

Decorated war veteran told to remove flag


Article Courtesy of The Examiner - Washington

Published: Sunday, July 3, 2005


Two hundred and twenty-nine years ago, soldiers representing a disgruntled minority voice within a group of colonists valiantly stood up against the repressive bureaucratic power that controlled them.


Today, Richard Oulton feels like one of them. Oulton, a veteran of the Marine Corps who earned his Purple Heart serving in Vietnam, has been threatened with arrest and eviction from his Glen Allen, Va., home for the offense of flying an American flag outside his residence.

"I was told [by the local homeowners association] that it was a visual nuisance, that it would detract from property value and to take it down," he said.

The Oulton family has spent at least $500,000 to pay legal costs and fines defending their cause, said Oulton's

wife, Ava. But in 2004, a judge ordered them to take their American flag down -

or face jail time after violating the bylaws

Marine Corps veteran Richard Oulton stands with a flag that was the focus of civil property rights litigation near its original location on his property, on Sunday in Glen Allen.

of their homeowners association and losing court battles.

"It hurts deeply," she said.

Help on the way from the Hill

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., wants to return to the Oultons the right to fly the Stars and Stripes outside their home.

Bartlett introduced to the House of Representatives a bill that would kill homeowners associations' rules preventing flag-flying. In Maryland, Bartlett has fielded complaints about associations demanding homeowners pull down Old Glory.

Around the Capital Beltway, homeowners associations are forcing patriotic Americans to hide the pride, even on Flag Day and Independence Day, said Sue Bartholomew, who hosts a local call-in radio show and Web site offering advice regarding homeowners associations. Virginia passed a state law allowing flag-flying in the face of the convention adopted by homeowners associations, but on the whole, she said, most measures are being met with litigious vehemence.

"They are not getting anywhere" in passing legislation that defies homeowners associations around the U.S., she said.

Oulton said the legislation passed in Virginia is not retroactive, keeping him on the losing end of his battle. Still, he says, he will not stop fighting for the right to fly his flag.

'I was outraged'

Bartlett's legislation could throw a wet towel on fiery homeowners associations that have cracked down on veterans and others who want to display their patriotism, said Florida attorney Barry Silver.

Silver represented George Andres, a Marine who served in Korea and retired to Jupiter, Fla., where he displayed an American flag in front of his home. Andres, a member of his local homeowners association, found himself in 1999 embroiled in a legal battle with his colleagues after one demanded he remove the flag, then filed suit.

"I put up my flag on my own property and they said I couldn't do that," Andres said. "I was outraged."

Flag or foreclosure?

After back-and-forth legal battles, Andres found himself owing $25,000 to his homeowners association. The association filed an additional suit to foreclose on Andres' house for his failure to come up with the legal fees, he said.

The association won its initial trial, but lost an important appeal, and eventually Andres was allowed to keep both his home and flag.

A state law has been passed allowing Andres to fly his flag. But he still had to spend $50,000 of his own money to fight his homeowners association.

Silver said that Andres' case - which drew heavy media attention and prompted Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to pay the veteran a visit with a new flag - exemplifies how one man has been determined to fly his Stars and Stripes rather than a white flag. He is optimistic for support of Bartlett's legislation, but remains skeptical of the future.

"The way the landscape is right now, it's ripe for litigation," Silver said.