neighbor suing over some cut trees

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Posting this on behalf of my dad. I'm married and long moved out of my parent's home. My dad is 86. I realize that doesn't excuse anything he did below, but PLEASE go easy on me, I realize what he did was wrong, but for those of you with older parents/grandparents you probably realize sometimes older people don't listen to wise advice and can be stubborn. He didn't stop when I strongly suggested he do so.

OK.... that aside.....

My parent's backyard abuts perpendicular to another property's backyard. While my parent's lot is a typical suburban 120' or so, the other guy has something like 700' of property depth, so his side property line runs alongside my parent's property and several other of my parent's neighbors.

The stretch of his yard that abuts my parents is near the back of his property, maybe 400' from his back patio. As you can imagine, he never uses his "way back" yard. He's older and barely gets to mow what grass is back there. In fact he tried to parcel it off and sell it to the people on my parent's street a few years ago so they'd have longer lots. My parents and their neighbors listened to the offer, but it was above market, not a fair offer, and they passed on it without even countering.

So in his "way back" yard, he doesn't do much landscaping, pruning, etc. (Of course, he doesn't have to, it's his yard to do whatever he so chooses with.) Unfortunately, it drove my dad nuts to see this wildly overgrown patch just beyond his property line. Against my advice and my mom's, he went in there and cleared out some brush, trimmed some trees, etc. Neighbor called the police and had a report done.

Court summons came yesterday. Dad is being charged with:
1. Criminal Damaging - which is a misdemeanor of the second degree carrying up to 90 days jail / $750 fine, and,
2. Criminal Trespass - which is a misdemeanor of the fourth degree carrying up to 30 days jail / $250 fine.

My dad is a clean guy, no record with the law, never been sued (civil or criminal) before.

I myself have no court experience except for a speeding ticket a decade ago.

Some questions running through my mind:
1. Should he bother getting a lawyer? I can't see the judge throwing the book at my dad. I'm guessing no jail time and maybe $500 fine?? If we don't get a lawyer, I need to go help him because he's hard of hearing.

2. Would any monetary damage to the neighbor be handled at this court appearance? Besides the fines which I believe go to the state (is that correct?), could a civil penalty be added that gets paid to the neighbor at this same court appearance? If not -- I assume the neighbor might be planning a civil suit in small claims as well, is that a fair statement?

3. Perhaps there won't be a civil case, because what kind of value can random wild bushes or small oak trees that he didn't intentionally plant possess? His bigger trees "planted" these smaller trees over the decades.

4. My dad has pictures of the overgrown mess before he cleaned it up. I realize that legally these pictures only prove how much he did in fact trespass and did in fact 'damage', but would a judge look at my dad and these photos, and at his age perhaps sympathize that my dad's intentions weren't malicious, and in reality, the 'damage' that has been done has caused the neighbor zero harm. To some eyes the landscape work probably raised the value of his property an (inconsequentially) small amount.

5. Continuing with the "sympathy" angle when we appear before the judge, should we mention that the neighbor might be annoyed that his offer to sell the property was rejected? He very well might be ticked at my dad and the others for ignoring his offer to sell.

6. When the police report was filed and the police came to document everything, they did "snoop" with the neighbor in my dad's back yard. Looking at what he had stored next to his tool shed, looking through his pile of firewood and lumber. I know it's neither here nor there, but, I don't see why they needed to do this.

7. Since this is a criminal case, does my neighbor do the talking, or does the city attorney handle all talking during court?

8. Any use talking to the neighbor to see if they'd drop the case for a settlement? Can they even drop it, at this point? The court summons reads "The State of < >, City of < > VS. <my dad>". What about showing up early and trying to make a deal with the prosecutor, or sending him a certified letter ahead of time??

Any other suggestions at all?

I'll say it again - YES I and my dad know it was 100% legally wrong and that there is no justification that would permit doing what he did. The question is how to proceed.

Thanks!!

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Please get a lawyer. Also where is the finance question, and did you create an alt to post this?

I wish your dad was my neighbor. I have a tree that I would like cut down.

Since neither you nor your dad know what you're doing, I suggest a lawyer.

Also, can you post the pics of the before/after? Want to get a look at the "damage."

If any restitution is ordered, you could argue that it should be the neighbor paying your dad for his work in maintaining the property...

They were obviously "snooping" to see if your dad stole anything - like cut down a larger tree to keep for firewood - or if he has the tools needed to commit the "crime". Obviously they shouldnt have done that without permission or a warrant, though.

Claim he's bitter about rejecting the sale offer, and the response is that if your dad wanted the propert cleaned up he should've bought it. And he actually had the opportunity to buy it.

Not knowing you, it could be productive or completely counter-productive, but you could always go visit the neighbor yourself, with a "He's 86 and just cleaned up some overgrown brush" plea for him to drop the complaint, as more of a mediator trying to make peace. Let teh guy vent, and be understanding of his position. You may also find there's more to the story your dad hasnt mentioned.

Contacting the prosecutor could yield a relatively painless plea deal, too. Not sure how easy that's to do without a lawyer, but given what you've said I wouldnt think a lawyer would cost too much to handle this case anyways (unless you want them to put every effort into getting dad off completely).

I wouldnt worry... Your dad doesn't have a defense. He should just bring his checkbook with him.

Let's think rationally - is a court going to send an 86 year old man to prison for misdemeanor trimming the hedges? Marion Barry avoided jailtime for tax evasion at age 70 - got 3 years probation instead of 18 months in the pen. Also, it's a criminal case and not a lawsuit, so you'll get a public defender.

IANAL

InTrouble said:   Please get a lawyer. Also where is the finance question, and did you create an alt to post this?

With a maximum of $1000 in fines (assuming I am right that a judge would never consider putting an 86 year old in jail over something like this), a lawyer seems like overkill. I can't see a lawyer costing LESS than $1000, and I can't see a judge totally throwing the case out. That is the FINANCE question here. There doesn't seem to be enough money at stake to justify the lawyer.

I will try to post pics from home later. Without the pics the best I can do is say.... there was NOTHING intentionally planted in this area, it was all wild growth, poison ivy in it, vines/brush.

Glitch99 said:   
Not knowing you, it could be productive or completely counter-productive, but you could always go visit the neighbor yourself, with a "He's 86 and just cleaned up some overgrown brush" plea for him to drop the complaint, as more of a mediator trying to make peace. Let teh guy vent, and be understanding of his position. You may also find there's more to the story your dad hasnt mentioned.


I'm definitely that kind of guy. I could go there and be very sympathetic and apologetic.

So even though this is a criminal case, the neighbor CAN still cancel this case, right? Perhaps an apology and an offer to make amends is worth a shot at saving a few hundred dollars and having to take off work for me.

If we go to court, does the fine money all go to the neighbor??

bxd20 said:   
If we go to court, does the fine money all go to the neighbor??

The neighbor only gets any restitution that is ordered, separate from any fine.

You may want to go as support for him since he will probably tell the judge off and get contempt if not behaved. Some angles to look at are that he was confused about where the property line was or he thought he was doing a favor. I would think he may get a few hundred in fines for this an no jail time. If I were fighting this I would seek proof of damage, did he cut an older tree or ..... How is it that they were harmed, seek proof of that.

I would hire a lawyer. This isn't a complicated case and need not cost a lot. Some judges might be sympathetic to an 86 year old, but many judges take the position that it is not their place to school pro-se defendants on court procedure and get impatient. And if you were going to get sympathy from the prosecutor, that would have already happened in the form of refusing to press any charges - although with the right representation it may still happen yet.

The owner of the overgrown lot is obviously just as cranky/stubborn as your dad and my guess is that he is around the same age too. I would not approach this person directly (he already choose to press charges, and courts take a VERY dim view of anything that looks like witness intimidation). But perhaps is there another neighbor who knows both yoru dad and this fellow and could mediate? Alternatively, perhaps someone would be willing to testify "bxd's dad is just a fine old fellow who wanted to clean up a neighborhood blight. The accuser has always been a grouch who never keeps his backyard clean and got mad at us when we wouldn't buy his property from him."

bxd20 said:   With a maximum of $1000 in fines (assuming I am right that a judge would never consider putting an 86 year old in jail over something like this), a lawyer seems like overkill. I can't see a lawyer costing LESS than $1000, and I can't see a judge totally throwing the case out. That is the FINANCE question here. There doesn't seem to be enough money at stake to justify the lawyer.
I know it may not sound like it makes sense to hire an attorney, but it may not just be an issue of fines. Maybe your dad cares if he has a criminal record. Misdemeanors stay on your record forever unless you have them expunged, and it could affect your dad if he ever tries to rent a place in the future. Plus, he'd never be able to answer the question "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?" with a "No" anymore. It may sound ridiculous, but it means a lot to some people.

My dad owns 3 houses, pays cash for his vehicles, he's not going to be a renter any time soon. It's a great point though, but it doesn't apply to my dad.

However, thanks to Glitch99, I now realize the $1000 is not the maximum cost of this mess. He could get hit for $1000 in fines and then restitution on top of that? This is what makes me a little nervous, if the neighbor comes up with a ridiculous story claiming his saplings were worth thousands of dollars.

So if we are entitled to a free public defender, when can we consult with him? Before the court date?

Kanosh said:   I would hire a lawyer. This isn't a complicated case and need not cost a lot. Some judges might be sympathetic to an 86 year old, but many judges take the position that it is not their place to school pro-se defendants on court procedure and get impatient. And if you were going to get sympathy from the prosecutor, that would have already happened in the form of refusing to press any charges - although with the right representation it may still happen yet. ...

if he is eligible for a public defender, that might be a better route in terms of perception of the defendant

Spend the money that you seem resigned to give up to make the case go away and put up a fence where your dad cannot see the neighbor's lot - bring it to court and tell the jusge it was simply a matter of an 86 year old man who was overcome by his neatly manintained yard being overrun by wild growth. Heat of the moment - crime of passion. He's sorry. Show that you have taken constructive measure to remedy and it will not happen again. He won't see it nor will be be able to gain access to the neighbor's yard. Proactive and positive use of funds rather than give it to your nreighbor. Judge should just throw it out or scold your dad.

http://images.search.yahoo.com/search/images?_adv_prop=image&fr=...

Glitch99 said:   Claim he's bitter about rejecting the sale offer, and the response is that if your dad wanted the propert cleaned up he should've bought it. And he actually had the opportunity to buy it.

But would that even be possible for him to buy it? My understanding is that the lot adjoins the lots of several homeowners. If only a few homeowners took the deal, then this guy's 1 lot would be split into multiple non-adjoining lots. I'm sure that's a situation he wouldn't want to deal with (and might not even be allowed by law, depending on whether that 2nd lot would be accessible from the road without being connected to the primary lot).

Aren't public defenders for people who can't afford an attorney?

remember that the incident itself (relative to other alleged crimes they deal with) will be very low on the list of what is important to authorities and the court

what is important is that there is no escalation in a neighborhood dispute and that there is respect towards the court

asbuilt said:   Aren't public defenders for people who can't afford an attorney?

public defenders are for people facing jail --- eligibility will vary from one place to another with some places being very liberal on who they accept

IANAL

If this does become a civil case (and it's hard to imagine at this point the "victim" is doing anything other than getting his pieces in place to do so), burden of proof to establish damages would fall on the plaintiff. This is actual damages, not just made up ones.

The biggest issue I see here was the warrantless search. Could damages be sought for this, or would any evidence (which I'm presuming is none) just get tossed? Lawyer comment?

IANAL

If he did not admit guilt to the police, just have him go in there and deny all of it. From what you're saying they can't use any information gotten from trespassing onto your dad's property.

IANAL

LordKronos said:   Glitch99 said:   Claim he's bitter about rejecting the sale offer, and the response is that if your dad wanted the propert cleaned up he should've bought it. And he actually had the opportunity to buy it.

But would that even be possible for him to buy it? My understanding is that the lot adjoins the lots of several homeowners. If only a few homeowners took the deal, then this guy's 1 lot would be split into multiple non-adjoining lots. I'm sure that's a situation he wouldn't want to deal with (and might not even be allowed by law, depending on whether that 2nd lot would be accessible from the road without being connected to the primary lot).


Yes you're right, the neighbor wanted ALL of them to agree, or nobody. If someone in the middle would have bought a plot it would have alienated the back section. I suppose he would have considered selling to only the last owner at the far rear, but as I said, nobody was interested at his prices.

Get your dad a lawyer, if possible settle with the neighbor in a way that gets the charges dropped. Your dad was wrong. He wasn't a little wrong, he was dead wrong. If something doesn't belong to you, you should keep your mitts off it.


Now a story!


My neighbor recently stated that he was going to cut some trees down on his property, and he would like to cut down some trees on my property as well. The trees in question are weed trees that are wildly overgrown, so this isn't odd. I gave him permission to come on the property and cut the trees. eventually he asked me for $20, saying he was paying the workers some money, and the $20 would be gas money for them. So essentially, my backyard was the horribly ugly mess and he was the neighbor who couldn't stand it anymore, but the difference is he got permission. From the fact that he did hundreds of dollars of yard work for free, I conclude that a) he's sick of my ugly yard, b) he may be trying to sell, and c) I need to hire a yard worker because if it gets this bad again my neighbor's gonna raise a humongus stink about it.

lostjake said:   If he did not admit guilt to the police, just have him go in there and deny all of it. From what you're saying they can't use any information gotten from trespassing onto your dad's property.

IANAL


He cooperated with the officer that came to his front door in completing the police report and was honest, trying to his explain his motives. There's no point in trying to claim he didn't do it. For all I know the neighbor might have a camera with a long zoom and has pictures of my dad commiting the crime.

bxd20 said:   He cooperated with the officer that came to his front door in completing the police report and was honest, trying to his explain his motives...
Ah, mistake #2.

First of all, they are not going to send your Dad to jail. Secondly, it's a small fish and should not be turn into an all out war with a defense and evidence. When you or your Dad show up to court, just try to be polite and apologetic and say that your Dad thought he was doing something beneficial and helpful for his neighbor. Tell your Dad play his age (shaking arms, stuttering, can't see far, not being sharp, you know I mean), and the judge will be lenient. Don't even bring up the selling property and neighbor being bitter about it.

On a related note, I would also check and see what city ordinances the neighbor violated by not maintaining the property. Perhaps part of the plea deal is that the city does not fine the neighbor for not properly maintain the property.

The neighbor is probably trying to maintain property rights. Where I live if you don't maintain your property, but your neighbor does for a prolonged period of time, the neighbor can file to have the property transferred.

lostjake said:   If he did not admit guilt to the police, just have him go in there and deny all of it. From what you're saying they can't use any information gotten from trespassing onto your dad's property.

IANAL
Wow, that's terrible advice. Are you sure you're not a lawyer?

What state? I wonder if you could argue that some of the yard stuff was a property nuisance, like a "rat harbor". I don't think that gives your dad the right to remedy the nuisance though. ianal

http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=28731

Ok, I'm a lawyer and believe it or not, I have handled a couple tree cut down cases in civil court. Your dad has two problems. He should lawyer up for sure. First is criminal court. They have to prove your dad did this, there are two ways to do this. One, is if your dad told someone he did it (the police or anyone else they can find) or if someone actually saw him do it. Finding an axe by his tool shed isn't "beyond a reasonable doubt". As for the civil matter this gets a little dicey. Your dad most likely has homeowners insurance. If he is sued in civil court, his homeowners insurance will hire the attorney for him and defend him, as well as pay the claim if he loses. I live in Illinois and it is triple damages if you cut down someone elses trees. You wouldn't believe what the value of a mature tree is, it can be over $10,000 as they can't be replaced. The dicey part is that in most states and most insurance policies they don't cover "intentional acts" or "punitive damages" or criminal acts. This is so you can't go up and punch someone in the face and have it be covered under your insurance policy. In civil court, the plaintiff's lawyer files their paperwork under "negligence" because they know there is a deep pocket (the insurance policy) that they can collect their money from. But there still is a question, at least in Illinois, whether the triple damages aspect of cutting down a tree is punitive in nature. To me, it seems to be. Also you still have a problem with insurance coverage if this is a criminal act.

Your dad needs to get a lawyer in the criminal case so he doesn't blow it on the civil side to make sure he is covered by his insurance policy.

Ditto the lawyer advice.

Without one I can easily imagine an older guy saying incriminating/stupid like "of course I did it and I will do it again". Whereas with one the lawyer can do some coaching and a lot of the talking. Could be the lawyer can spin it into a "my client was confused about the property line", "thought he had the neighbor's permission", "my client never did any such thing before and NEVER will again" whatever defense.

A lawyer should also be in a better position to document the damages done if any.

It could also be the neighbor might have some liability to clean up the yard to avoid a citation or two of his own. A lawyer should be in a good position to figure that out. He might also be able to leverage that and get the neighbor drop or reduce his charges.

Just throwing out some very hypothetical things to try and make the OP see other potential upsides into getting a lawyer.

Personally I would get a lawyer just to cover your father. And like previously posted it should not cost too much. But since the police were called you never know the intentions of the neighbor. I know in my area there are also laws about over grown lawns, and if the city is called the person will get a warning to cut, if not done within a specific time period, the city comes and cuts it and sends a bill to the home owner.

One reason to get a lawyer is the neighbor is already playing hardball. Who calls the cops and files a criminal police report on their neighbor over some yard maintenance??

If it was my yard, and for some reason I was pissed, I might go and say something or write a stern letter making them aware that they shouldn't do it again...

There are no "angles" to get out of this. My dad already admitted in the police report he did it, trying to justify the act by claiming it was a nuissance. There is NO way he can claim he doesn't know where the property line is because my dad stacks his firewood along the rear property line. And finally there's no way he could lie and claim he had their permission, my dad wouldn't go for that.

So I'm confused again on the payment of restitution. An earlier poster said that the judge could order my dad to pay restitution at the criminal case. Let's say the judge values the damage at $2000, but the neighbor feels he's getting short changed. Can neighbor then file a separate civil case and ask for additional restitution???

Timx - thanks for your insight, very helpful.

I would look at getting a lawyer, public defender or something.

"When the police report was filed and the police came to document everything, they did "snoop" with the neighbor in my dad's back yard. Looking at what he had stored next to his tool shed, looking through his pile of firewood and lumber. I know it's neither here nor there, but, I don't see why they needed to do this."

and how did the police and the neighbor get in your dad's back yard? Are you telling me you that the cops led an aggrieved party through your dad's property? Did they have a warrant? This actually may be here or there. I am amazed that you make horrible legal arguments and yet overlook the one thing that may be helpful.

"I'll say it again - YES I and my dad know it was 100% legally wrong and that there is no justification that would permit doing what he did."

It doesn't matter what you know. It matters what you can prove

OP said: ... wildly overgrown patch just beyond his property line. Against my advice and my mom's, he went in there and cleared out some brush, trimmed some trees, etc.
A lot depends on the specifics of what OP means by the above. This could be clearing a lot of weeds and trimming a few tree branches that were perhaps coming over father's property. It could be cutting down some mature trees. The latter might be far more serious than the former.

Al3xK said:   One reason to get a lawyer is the neighbor is already playing hardball. Who calls the cops and files a criminal police report on their neighbor over some yard maintenance??

If it was my yard, and for some reason I was pissed, I might go and say something or write a stern letter making them aware that they shouldn't do it again...


I am also puzzled by his motives a bit. If I were him and trying to just be difficult, I think I'd open a small claims case, which I could win easily, get my $3000 (or whateever is), and move on. That money would be a clear message to "stop messing with my trees". Maybe move to criminal if he did it again.

So I think either we need to lawyer up and be prepared for hard ball, or, I need to go over there and try to de-escalate the situation and get it resolved out of courts. It really has turned into a MUCH bigger deal than it needs to be thanks to two older guys out to prove something.

uutxs said:   OP said: ... wildly overgrown patch just beyond his property line. Against my advice and my mom's, he went in there and cleared out some brush, trimmed some trees, etc.
A lot depends on the specifics of what OP means by the above. This could be clearing a lot of weeds and trimming a few tree branches that were perhaps coming over father's property. It could be cutting down some mature trees. The latter might be far more serious than the former.


Small 'wild tree' saplings and young trees were cut. Mature trees were not cut down, though some branches were pruned.

Skipping 296 Messages...
CowbellMaster said:   Aw snap, looks like we're going to have a good ol' fashioned internet lawyer-off!!

Woot woot woot!!!


$20 on Matlock!



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