posted: Jun. 7, 2012 @ 8:48a
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.