Local Marine in fight over displaying flag

January 6, 2011 5:22:13 PM PST
A retired Marine is taking on his homeowners association after he was ordered to take his American flag down. It's something he's been doing for years, and the Cypress man says it's against the law for the HOA to stop him from displaying the flag. It's happening in the Lakeland Village community off Highway 290 and Fry Road.

Mike Merola is a former drill sergeant in the Marines. He changes out his flag twice a year to keep it from getting worn, something he takes very seriously. But it's a tradition that his homeowners association says needs to stop.

"I served from 1969 to 1977," said Merola.

But that doesn't mean he's finished defending what he says is one of his rights -- to fly the American flag on a 20-foot pole in his neatly landscaped back yard.

"Seems to me that people all over the country, that our trying to show their patriotism and things by flying a flag on a flag pole are being questioned and having to go through a fight to do so," Merola said.

The Lakeland Village Community Association is suing him for displaying his patriotism. They filed a lawsuit against Merola after he refused to remove the flag and pole, saying his violatons, as they call them, "are a detriment to Lakeland Village and run afoul of the community wide standard therein, causing imminent harm and irreparable injury to them."

During a face-to-face meeting, he was also told the wind noise was a problem. His direct neighbors don't seem to mind.

"I love it, it's beautiful, it adds to the nieghborhood. You go on a walk, you come around the corner, it's flying up there. It's pretty," said neighbor Beth Stepanik.

He and his attorney contend he has every right to fly Old Glory under the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005 which says in part that a "residential real estate management association may not adopt or enforce any policy, or enter into any agreement, that would restrict or prevent a member of the association from displaying the flag."

So as his legal fees rack up, Merola plans to stand his ground in court.

"This is for those that are serving now, those of us that have served before, but for the people that paid the ultimate price and that's why I'm flying the flag," said Merola.

Lakeland HOA tells us Merola can fly a flag, it just has to be mounted on the front of his home. In the lawsuit, the HOA is asking a judge to levy a $200 a day fine at 18 percent interest.

As of now, no court date has been set.

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