Thomas and Carol Gaddy speak to supporters after her release from Sequatchie County Jail on Nov. 12 on charges of contempt. (Photo David Tulis)

Thomas and Carol Gaddy speak to supporters after her release from Sequatchie County Jail on Nov. 12 on charges of contempt. She spent two nights in a cell. (Photo David Tulis)

A bill sliding through the Tennessee general assembly offers unexpected aid to Thomas and Carol Gaddy, the homeowners from Sequatchie County who are in hiding while a judge demands permission for Dunlap city officials to search their house.

The bill by Sen. Frank Niceley would have the secretary of state determine if a property has been annexed into a municipality if a property owner asks for proof. SB 338 would allow Mrs. Gaddy to pursue one of her arguments in a property rights case has turned her into a fugitive.

By David Tulis / Noogaradio 1240 AM 92.7 FM

She and Mr. Gaddy face arrest because they are under a civil contempt order in the court of Chancery Judge Thomas Graham. Because they have not consented to a search of their property, absent a finding of probable cause, Judge Graham issued a bench warrant in March for their arrest and intends to keep them in jail until they allow what the city terms an inspection.

Mrs. Gaddy has sued Judge Graham for abuse of office. In an interview she says it is unethical for him to maintain any action against her because he is an interested and biased party.

Challenge to town’s claims

Sen. Frank Niceley

Sen. Frank Niceley

The bill by Sen. Niceley and a companion bill in the state House of Representatives lets a property owner request verification of annexation. Once the request has been made, the secretary of state shall request all the annexation ordinances from the city and all results of referendums on annexation is held by the municipality.

The secretary of state shall review the submission by the municipality and any private acts affecting the boundaries of the municipality and determine whether the property owned by the person making *** has been annexed by the municipality. *** If it is determined that the subject property has not been annexed, any property taxes paid by the property owner to the municipality shall be reimbursed to the property owner, with interest.

State archives indicate Dunlap has not incorporated her property, Mrs. Gaddy says. Her house along Coops Creek is a rifle shot away from city hall in the middle of town. If she can verify that that Dunlap’s corporate growth legally missed her lot, the civil case against her collapses. She says it is possible that the city has fraudulently collected taxes from property owners since the 1970s.

Troubled case

But the judiciary does not take contempt lightly. Judge Graham has ordered the couple incarcerated until they say “yes” to a search of their property. The case was troubled from the beginning. It was filed against a spirited and constitution-quoting property owner, a woman with real estate experience and a great deal of git. The case is before a judge with no jurisdiction under the city charter; it was filed in chancery, though the charter says the sole domain for all disputes under the ordinance is city court.

“The city judge shall have jurisdiction in and over all cases for the violation of and all cases arising under the laws and ordinances of the city,” reads Article 16, section 1.

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