In Defense of Rural America

a weekly column published every Sunday by
Ron Ewart, President of the

For the week of:
Sunday, May 5. 2013

The "In Defense of Rural America" column archives are available HERE.

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In Jail

"Jailed For 5 Months For Cleaning Out A Ditch!"
From * In Defense of Rural America *
By Ron Ewart, President
National Association of Rural Landowners
and nationally recognized author on freedom and property rights issues.
We are helping to spread freedom and liberty around the globe.
© Copyright Sunday, May 5, 2013 - All Rights Reserved

It is true that we can't pick our relatives and most times we can't pick our neighbors, but many times either can bring us grief beyond belief. And such was the case for John (not his real name as he requested anonymity) who owned a few acres of land in a rural area of America, about a half hours drive from a big city. Unfortunately, the government has passed so many laws that neighbors never settle their differences face-to-face or in the courts any more. One neighbor just calls the government and files a complaint on his neighbor, which the government is honor bound to investigate, whether the complaint is valid or just neighbor revenge.

Government laws have turned many Americans into sniveling snitches. In one county we know, the local land use authorities were holding seminars for landowners, teaching them how to rat on their neighbors if they suspect their neighbor was doing something without benefit of a permit. That is what we have come to from passing millions of laws that nobody knows, which leads to the government pitting neighbor against neighbor.

From what we understand, John's neighbor had a minor grievance with John over some work along a common boundary and instead of working it out man-to-man, the neighbor called the county land use authorities (CLUA) and filed a complaint. The CLUA comes out, looks at what John is doing and says they didn't see any problem, John didn't need a permit and went away. That wasn't good enough for John's neighbor and he kept bugging CLUA until they came out to the property and told John that he needed to cease and desist. But John had already ceased and desisted with whatever he had been doing. That wasn't good enough for CLUA, thanks to continued bugging by John's neighbor and CLUA finally filed misdemeanor charges against John for continuing to do alleged illegal work that John had already stopped. Essentially John's activities consisted of cleaning out some areas around a ditch and burning the slash, for which John had gotten a burning permit.

John ignored their warnings for several months and thought the whole issue had gone away. But behind the scenes John's neighbor kept pressuring CLUA and the county prosecutor, to "get" John.

CLUA and the county prosecutor dragged John into District Court on misdemeanor charges for filling a wetland and John elected to represent himself for what he thought was just a minor land use violation that he could make go away. No such luck. The prosecutor and the District Court Judge decided to make an environmental example out of John by thwarting every legal attempt John made to defend himself, to the point that the judge found John in contempt of court and sentenced him to 150 days in jail on a full cash bond of $20,000 each, for five separate contempt of court charges. Not having $100,000 dollars to pay the court, John was forced to sit in jail with thieves and murders for over 60 days before a third party filed a writ of Habeas Corpus in Superior Court and had to fork over $20,000 in cash to get John out of jail on appeal.

Oh, did we tell you that the wetland charge was made by creating the wetland AFTER John had done his clearing and burning. There was no wetland designation in the area anytime before John did his work. In other words, the prosecutor drummed up the charges by creating a wetland violation after the fact. That's how they "got" John.

While out on appeal John used every legal trick he knew to get the case dismissed but the court clerk would fail to file and record his motions. Some motions were lost, others ignored. The District Court judge literally thumbed his nose at all of John's efforts. When John filed a motion to get his case elevated to Superior Court because according to the state Constitution, the lower court has no jurisdiction in real estate cases, the District Court judge de-railed that too.

John filed motions in Superior Court to get the lower court decision rescinded. The Superior Court would hear none of it either. We not only read the transcripts of the lower court record but also attended the District Court and Superior Court hearings. The transcript screamed of the District Court Judge's environmental bias against John and he was going to "get" John any way he could. We even filed written complaints with the District Court and the Superior Court, signed by several landowners. We wrote articles about John's case that appeared in local venues. The District Court judge wouldn't let go.

Finding no help in the two lower courts, John filed motions with the state appellate court. No help there either. John went to the State Supreme Court. They refused to hear the case.

Finally, just days before the District Court's order to send John back to jail for another 90 days and pay a fine of another $1,000, John filed for clemency with the Governor of the state. The Governor ignored Johnís plea. John tried to get the District Court to give him credit for time served and for good behavior while in jail for the first 63 days. The District Court judge said emphatically NO! and John went back to jail to sit with thieves and murders again, essentially for doing maintenance on HIS property.

Some of us tried to help John but our efforts fell on deaf ears. John was forced back to jail for another 90 days for a charge of clearing out a wetland that didn't exist before the act of clearing. John became a sacrificial lamb in the name of radical environmentalism. You have to steal a car seven times before you go to jail, but woe be to the landowner that dares to violate a sacred environmental ordinance, for he shall be sacrificed on the alter of Gaia, the God of Earth.

Perhaps, in hindsight, John should have hired a land use attorney and made the charges against him go away. But he chose to defend himself as a proud American. Perhaps that was an error in judgment on John's part, but he and we will never know. Whether defending yourself, or with a lawyer, going into court is a crapshoot at best and any good lawyer will admit it. Court rules are voluminous and can easily trip up the unwary that dares to defend him or herself in court. It is a closed, elite club of judges, lawyers, clerks and the state bar association and they rule the "Club." They don't like people defending themselves because it messes up their neat little kingdom. Judges legislating from the bench are as common as houseflies. Oversight of courts is tantamount to the Fox guarding the Hen House. But all that is moot now for John.

(We have had our own sad experiences with the court system. One of those experiences cost us $35,000 in attorney's fees for what was blatantly a frivolous lawsuit.)

John has been out of jail now for several years but the experience has left him emotionally, if not financially drained. We haven't talked to him in those intervening years and we don't even know if he still resides on his land.

If you don't think that what happened to John can happen to you, think again. It is happening all over America. Every week we get one or more e-mails or phone calls from landowners who are in trouble with government. Most of them are desperate because they have let their situation go too far where the government has the landowner by the throat and the fines and penalties are mounting up. Some are facing jail time.

So ladies and gentlemen, do you have a neighbor that has it in for you? Will he work it out with you personally, or will he call the government? Odds are he will call the government because he is a coward and it is easier than facing you. When he does call the government, you are going to find yourself in a world of hurt because the code enforcement officer they send out WILL find something wrong on your property and they WILL fine you or tell you that you have to restore your property to its original condition, which will cost you a bundle. They may even haul you off to jail like they did John.

We can help some landowners with some of the tools on this website. Unfortunately, there are many we can't help because the government has the law on their side and they have the money (our money) and their own attorneys to thwart any efforts you may attempt to defend yourself. It's a stacked deck at best.

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COMMENTS: Should you desire, you can e-mail a comment to this article at: Worthy, thoughtful comments, in our sole discretion, will be posted below the article. Comments that use foul language, perjoratives, or attacks against others will be discarded. Be sure to include your full name, as blind e-mail comments will not be posted.

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© Copyright January 2013 by the National Association of Rural Landowners - All rights reserved.