Arlington owner appears in court, pleads guilty

Published 12:15 am Wednesday, July 17, 2013

NATCHEZ — Historic Arlington owner Tom Vaughan of Jackson made a surprise appearance in Natchez Municipal Court Monday and pleaded guilty to failure to maintain property, Municipal Court Judge Pro Tem Tony Heidelberg said.

Vaughan did not show up for his actual court date on July 1. Heidelberg said Vaughan told him Monday that Vaughan thought he asked the court to schedule the court date for Monday because he was not available July 1.

Heidelberg said he was not aware Vaughan would be appearing in court until he walked in and saw him sitting in the courtroom.

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Heidelberg said Vaughan told him he meant no disrespect to the court by not appearing in court July 1.

Vaughan could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Heidelberg proceeded with a hearing Monday to allow Vaughan to plead guilty. Heidelberg said he will issue an order nullifying his court order on July 1. He said, however, he issued a nearly identical order. The only change, Heidelberg said, is that Vaughan now has until Aug. 19 to pay his $1,000 fine instead of Aug. 5.

Heidelberg said Vaughan also has until Aug. 19 to make “meaningful” repairs or work to the property. The code violation to which Vaughan pleaded guilty specifically deals with overgrown lots.

If Vaughan does not bring the property up to code, the court again granted the City of Natchez authority to contract with a third-party company to clean up the property. The city can spend $20,000, which Vaughan will have to pay.

The $20,000 allotment for labor costs is the maximum amount allowed for one year according to Mississippi statute 21-19-11, Heidelberg said.

After the property is cleaned up, the city will be allowed to submit that bill to the court, Heidelberg said. He said the court will likely assess a 50-percent penalty on top of that, which would mean an additional $10,000 penalty on top of the $20,000 clean-up charge.

The city can clean the lot up to six times in the one-year period, according to the statute.

Arlington was built between 1816 and 1821 and is located at 1320 John A. Quitman Blvd.

The Arlington house suffered severe fire damage, which destroyed the roof and the second floor in September 2002. The Historic Natchez Foundation installed a roof on the house shortly after the fire, but no other work has been done to protect the house from weather or vandalism.

The house was named the second most endangered historic property in Mississippi by the Mississippi Heritage Trust in 2009. The Mississippi Heritage Trust has released a 10 most endangered places list since 1999.