After being unable to enter Daniel Banyai’s property on June 1, Pawlet town officials asked the state Environmental Court to order his arrest, while a federal judge threw out his new lawsuit. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Pawlet town officials have asked the Vermont Environmental Court to issue an arrest warrant for the owner of Slate Ridge, a firearms training facility, for failing to comply with a court order related to unpermitted buildings on his property.

When Pawlet town officials arrived at Daniel Banyai’s property on June 1 for a court-ordered site visit, Banyai — the owner of the controversial firearms training facility — was nowhere to be found. 

According to a court document filed by town officials, Banyai had closed the gate to his property. A sign read, “Warning no trespassing. Written permission needed to enter. Admission with state or federal ID only. Trespass here, die here, take the chance!”

A sign at the gate to Daniel Banyai’s property. Photo courtesy of the town of Pawlet

The site visit was part of a schedule issued by Environmental Court Judge Thomas Durkin. By May 25, the court required Banyai to dismantle a number of unpermitted buildings on his property, including a schoolhouse where he has allegedly conducted paramilitary training. 

If Banyai complied, the judge would forgive all his pending fines — $200 per day starting on Jan. 14, 2022, which now totals about $102,000.

On May 31, the evening before the site visit, Banyai’s attorney, Robert Kaplan, had sent a note to Pawlet town officials and their attorney, Merrill Bent, warning them that Banyai would not allow them to enter. 

But town officials still arrived at 10 a.m., and when Banyai didn’t show, Bent filed a motion with the Environmental Court, asking for his arrest. 

Durkin’s Feb. 8 order, which outlined Banyai’s required schedule of compliance, stated that, should Banyai “fail to timely complete all terms in the compliance schedule, upon motion of the Town, the Court will issue a writ of mittimus” for his “immediate imprisonment.”

By June 6, the Environmental Court had not issued a decision concerning Banyai’s arrest.

Meanwhile, on May 31, Banyai filed a new lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Vermont, asking a federal judge to impose a restraining order on Durkin, the Environmental Court judge who ruled against him, and Pawlet town officials, which would have prevented the court orders from being enforced. 

On June 5, U.S, District Court Judge William Sessions denied Banyai’s motion, saying the court could not intervene in the enforcement of the Vermont Environmental Court order.  

For Banyai to win the immediate restraining order he had requested, the federal court decision stated, he had to prove that, in the longer term, his case was “likely to succeed on the merits, that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest.”

The suit failed “at the first step of the analysis; Mr. Banyai is not likely to succeed on the merits of his claim,” Sessions wrote in his decision, because Banyai’s case amounted to an appeal of decisions made in the state court system. 

Sessions found “no evidence that the Town of Pawlet acted in bad faith by bringing state proceedings to enforce” a notice of violation issued by the town’s zoning administrator or to hold Mr. Banyai in contempt of court.

Neither Kaplan, who represents Banyai, nor Bent, who represents the town of Pawlet, was immediately available to comment on Tuesday.

VTDigger's environment reporter.