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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ohio Woman, 89, Becomes My New Hero

By now you've probably heard of Edna Jester, the 89-year-old Ohio woman who was arrested last week when she refused to return a kid's football that had come flying into her yard.

Police in Blue Ash, Ohio, a Cincinnati suburb, finally came to their senses and dropped the petty-theft charges. But before they did, Mrs. Schnauzer and I had a chance to read about Jester and say, "Jumping junipers, this is like our life on rewind."

The parallels between the Jester case and what we've experienced here in Birmingham, Alabama, are remarkable. And while we are sorry about the headaches Jester has endured, we are pleased that her situation has brought national attention to the issue of thoughtless parents and clueless kids who abuse neighbors of all ages.

Before we compare the two cases, let's check out the Smoking Gun's piece on Edna Jester, which includes the actual "criminal" complaint. You will notice that Jester was charged with violating section 2913.02A1 of the Ohio Revised Code. You can check out the section here.

Without going into too much detail, it seems clear that, under the law, Jester did not "deprive" anybody of anything. She made it clear that she didn't want the football and was more than happy to give it back if the kids/parents would keep it off her yard in the future. On top of that, the ball landing in her yard probably gives her consent to exert control over it. I know of no law that prevents someone from picking up an object off their own lawn.

It's hard to imagine what kind of ding-a-ling police officer ever OKd her arrest on this. I hope Jester finds a rugged lawyer and files a kick-ass lawsuit against the police chief and the idiots at city hall who hired him. It also would serve the kids' parents right if they got nailed with a lawsuit, and Jester certainly would have legal grounds to do it.

Let's look at the Jester case and the Schnauzer case.

Jester has lived in her small, one-story home for 59 years. Paul and Kelley Tanis and their five children moved in seven years ago. The Tanis kids and their friends had repeatedly thrown and kicked objects into Jester's yard and come onto her property to retrieve them. Jester had repeatedly asked the kids and their parents to keep their things, and themselves, off her property.

Under the law, Jester had every right to make such a request. In fact, she was going above and beyond in trying to be an understanding neighbor. If Ohio law is like Alabama law on criminal trespass, and my research indicates the law is pretty standard in all states, the kids and any parents who came on Jester's property without being licensed, privileged or invited to do so were committing a crime. Ms. Jester didn't have to ask them to stay off her yard. She could have gone to the nearest courthouse and sworn out a criminal complaint.

She also could have filed a lawsuit against the trespassers. Whenever an object came onto her yard, the person responsible for it landing there committed a civil trespass--even if said person did not enter Jester's property to retrieve it.

Anyway, the law was on Jester's side in every respect. And yet, she got arrested! And this happened after she tried to solve the problem, without turning it into a legal matter, by asking the kids and parents to respect her property rights.

Those requests apparently fell on deaf ears. So when the kids were playing in the street, and the football landed next to Jester while she was gardening in her front yard, she picked it up and refused to give it back. "That's my only way of getting through to these children," Jester said.

Actually, as I noted above, that is not the only course of action she had. But under the circumstances, it was a reasonable and lawful thing to do. And I know because I've been there.

My wife and I had lived in our house for nine years when Mike McGarity and his wife and two kids arrived next door in December 1998. McGarity and his son, along with other kids and parents, essentially turned their front yard into the neighborhood playground--which, of course, was fine with us. But they also tried to turn our adjoining front yard into a playground, routinely kicking and throwing stuff onto our yard and coming to retrieve it. And that was not fine, particularly since McGarity had acted like a jerk toward us almost from the moment he moved in.

Like Ms. Jester, I repeatedly asked told McGarity and the kids to stay off our property--and to keep their stuff off our property. McGarity threatened to sue me for "harassment."

This is probably one difference between the Schnauzer and Jester stories. While Tanis evidently is a pretty thoughtless individual, I see no indication that he has a criminal record. McGarity has at least eight criminal convictions in his background, we discovered later, and that explained a whole lot about his behavior.

We took a few steps in our situation that Jester evidently did not take in hers. I phoned an attorney acquaintance, who told me McGarity and the kids were violating criminal law. The lawyer wrote McGarity a letter to explain the law and reiterate that he and the kids were to stay off our property--and that they would receive no further warning.

When McGarity trespassed again on multiple occasions, we swore out a criminal complaint. We also could have filed a complaint against the kids with the juvenile intake officer in our county. And we would have done that, but McGarity himself was the first person to trespass after receipt of the written warning.

McGarity's unwillingness to simply respect our property rights led to a criminal case, a lawsuit (by him against me), numerous crimes by lawyers and judges (as reported on this blog), the unlawful "auction" of our house, and the loss of my job. In fact, this blog never would have happened if we had not been treated like dirt by a crappy neighbor, just the way Jester was in Ohio.

The Jester case led to national attention for an 89-year-old woman who didn't need the headaches caused by thoughtless neighbors.

What is it about some modern parents that makes them incapable of understanding that the people who live around them have property rights? And what makes parents incapable of teaching their children to respect other people's property rights, whether the neighbor is 89 or 29?

What are some simple steps that semi-thoughtful parents can take to prevent these problems--which are easily prevented? And what steps can law-enforcement officers take to cut these problems off at the pass before they wind up on court dockets?

More on that coming up.

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