CHRISTIANA, Pa--Despite a judge's decision that it was hoped would settle the dispute, contention continues over the ownership of the hounds of Andrews Bridge Foxhounds (ABF) as well as which group, the Crompton's Andrews Bridge Foxhounds or Steve Harris' Andrews Bridge Foxhounds, Inc., has the right to hunt the territory in Lancaster County.
The dispute is believed by Georgia Crompton to have contributed to Bob Crompton's death.
Bob Crompton and Steve Harris both grew up around Huntington Valley, hunted there and were friends.
Crompton moved to Christiana after marrying Diane Strawbridge, and he and George Strawbridge, Diane's brother, bought huge tracts of land in Lancaster County.
When Bob Crompton retired from hunting, he leased the ABF to Harris but remained as Joint Master.
On March 12, 2017, all but two of the ABF hounds were taken from the kennel on Bob and Georgia Crompton's land without their knowledge or permission, and the Cromptons didn't know where they were taken, so they filed suit to recover the hounds.
In the Estate of Robert H. Crompton, III and Georgia R. Crompton, Plaintiffs, vs. Stephen B. Harris, Esquire, Betsy A. Harris and Andrews Bridge Foxhounds, Inc., the Judge ruled that "the Andrews Bridge Foxhounds are owned by the Cromptons," but Harris filed an appeal.
The Master of Foxhounds Association recognizes the territory hunted by a pack, but, because never before have hounds been leased, the MFHA has no precedent to follow.
"This is so new, so recent, we're just now looking at it," said David Twiggs, executive director of the Master of Foxhounds Association. "We have to work with all the Masters."
Twiggs, said that the MFHA has Stephen B. Harris, Betsy A Harris, Robert H. Crompton, William Crompton and George Strawbridge still listed as Joint Masters.
"BOB WAS brought to tears when they stole the hounds," said Georgia of her husband of 36 years who died about a year after the hounds were taken. "Steve Harris is a lawyer. All he had to say was he wanted to start his own pack. Don't steal our hounds and hide them for six months in Virginia. We found out later that's where he had taken them."
"They took them to Virginia," said Georgia Crompton, referring to the fact that hounds she claimed were stolen were taken across stat's lines. "I think that's a felony."
"We were in Florida when they were taken," said Crompton. "Our manager was in church. Two old hounds were left. They took everything, the water heater, the power hose. Our realtor called us and told us that the Harrises were not leasing the kennel. I called Jim Paxson, and he went and got the two hounds. They were shivering. They hid the hounds for six months. they're still spreading lies about us. They're still fighting over 26 hounds. They're all by our breeding. They leased the pack, not individual hounds."
"We felt that the hounds belonged to us," said Harris. "We wanted them in our own kennel. We did have a place to keep them."
On Jan. 29, a judge ruled "the Andrews Bridge Foxhounds are owned by the Cromptons," but later stayed his ruling on the ownership of 26 of the hounds, and the Master of Foxhounds Association is looking into the question of which entity has the right to hunt the territory assigned to ABF.
"I have filed a motion of reconsideration of the 26 hounds," said Harris. "I identified 26 hounds drafted to me or born of hounds drafted to me, and the judge stayed the transfer of those hounds."
Meanwhile, Harris said he intends "to continue hunting the territory three days a week."
"The only thing in court was the ownership of the hounds," said Harris. "I hope the judge will find that we can keep those 26 hounds. We have commitments from other hunts for another 26 hounds."
"The Masters of Foxhounds Association says who can hunt the territory," said Harris. "We have been in discussion with the MFHA. We are still Joint Masters of Andrews Bridge Foxhounds."
Bob Crompton died July 15, 2018, but his widow Georgia, clearly distraught over the loss of their hounds and what she said was the disastrous affect it had on Bob''s life, continued the suit.
"Bob spent the last year of his life fighting this," said Crompton. "I'm doing this in his memory."
"Georgia just feels she has to win," said Harris. "Bob Crompton died a year ago. Georgia has sold all the property in Lancaster and she is now a resident of Florida. She is Bob's third wife."
"When Bob retired from hunting, he asked Steve Hill and me to take over full responsibility for the pack. It's been well over 10 years. Since Bob passed away, Georgia has done nothing with the hounds."
"We built a new state of the art kennel," said Harris. "We bought Janet Elliot's farm and built the kennel there. The foxhunting community has been very supportive. By mid-February we expect to have 25 couple of hounds. We will continue to hunt three times a week, Monday, Thursday and Saturday."
A JUDGE in the Count of Common Pleas of Lancaster County ruled on Jan. 29, 2019 that all "the ABF hounds were privately owned by the Cromptons rather than owned by the hunt. There is no evidence pointed to by the defendants that suggests their actions have created an ownership interest in the current hounds making up the pack names the Andrews Bridge Foxhounds, through any custom or usage within the sport of foxhunting."
On Feb. 8, a portion of the pack, 45 hounds, were returned to the ABF kennel.
"Forty-five hounds were returned with no identification and no rabies certificates," said Crompton. "You'd think they'd have the decency to bring back a hound list and the rabies certificates."
"I spent three hours with Sean Cully (the Pennsylvania representative on the Territory Committee of the MFHA)," said Crompton. "He went to the Harrises and came to see us. He said the MFHA is going to put us on a reorganization status. That means we can't go to any hound shows. No one ever leased hounds before, so the MFHA doesn't know what to do."
"The Harrises have posted that they're ABF," said Crompton. "I asked Cully if he couldn't stop that. I'm trying to pas out what the judge said. The neighbors can't believe it. The judge made it clear that the hounds and the name belong to us. Bob and I were together 36 years. To lose his life work, his hounds, to thieves who have stolen his name - to steal is wrong. They were Bob's life and our life."
"I don't know what I'm going to do," said Crompton. "I'm just going one day at a time."
In one of many depositions made prior to the Judge's ruling, Pat Loftus made an excellent analogy of the Andrews Bridge Foxhounds to a baseball team.
"It's like the Red Sox's. They just won the world championship. It's a great team. Come back in ten years. I want to see those same Red Soxs. They have all different players. What happened to those other players? Some got traded. Some got old. Some died. It's a different team. Any lineage or ancestry there? Yes, they are still the Red Soxs."
IT ALL BEGAN when Walter Jeffords, Jr. transferred the Andrews Bridge Foxhounds and the hunt (which Jeffords had founded) to Robert H. Crompton in 1968, and Crompton kenneled the hounds on his farm in Christiana and hunted the hounds until he wanted to retire and entered into an agreement in 2008 with Harris, his friend from childhood.
In the agreement Harris and J. Stephen Hill agreed, among other things, to "rent the hounds and the kennel from the Cromptons" and "be responsible for the maintenance of the foxhounds and the kennels and the staff that care for the foxhounds," according to the Judge's decision
Excerpts from the Judge's decision follow.
"The 2008 Agreement clearly and unequivocally states that the Andrews Bridge Kennel and the Andrews Bridge Foxhounds are owned by the Cromptons,"
A 2013 amendment "still does not indicate any ownership interest in the foxhounds by Andrews Bridge Foxhounds, Inc., instead reiterating that Andrews Bridge Foxhounds, Inc. is `leasing' the foxhounds on a year-to-year basis."
"On March 12, 2017, Harris emailed the Cromptons' realtor, Mark Willcox, informing him that Harris wanted to terminate the leases.
"Harris took 70 foxhounds and left two foxhounds...Harris states that he left the hounds he leased from the Cromptons at the kennel. Harris and defendants have resolutely asserted to the Cromptons that the pack is now theirs."
"He (Harris) asserts that only the hounds in existence at the time of the lease are owned by the Cromptons, but this runs afoul of the definitions and customs of the Masters of the Foxhounds Association.
"Although subscribers were required to pay an annual subscription that went toward the support of the ABF hounds, the language in the 2008 Agreement is clear that the ABF hounds were privately owned by the Cromptons rather than owned by the hunt. The evidence establishes no dispute of material facts requiring a trial.
"There is no evidence pointed to by defendants that suggests their actions have created an ownership interest in the current hounds making up the pack named the Andrews Bridge Foxhounds, through any custom or usage within the sport of foxhunting. The evidence leads to the opposite conclusion and plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgement."