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Monday, January 5, 2009

Case of "Flying Footballs" Generates a Lawsuit

An Ohio woman who was arrested in October for keeping a football that had landed in her yard has sued the parents of the children involved.

A lawsuit, filed on behalf of 88-year-old Edna Jester of Blue Ash, Ohio, claims Jester suffered emotional distress from having to deal with repeated instances of objects entering her property and people trespassing to retrieve them.

The case gained national attention when Jester was arrested on a misdemeanor theft charge after refusing to return a football that had landed in her yard while she was gardening.

Jester said she had repeatedly asked neighbors Paul and Kelly Tanis to keep their children and their stuff off her property. When the trespassing continued, Jester decided to take matters into her own hands by keeping the football.

Criminal charges against Jester were eventually dropped.

We've posted about the Jester case because it is so similar to our experiences here in Alabama. In fact, my efforts to protect our property rights--in much the same way that Jester did--wound up with me facing a bogus lawsuit. And that lawsuit, and the corrupt handling of it by Alabama judges and lawyers, led to this blog.

I'm the last person who would defend someone for filing a baseless lawsuit. But Jester has solid grounds for her complaint, and the parents are getting pretty much what they deserve after repeatedly failing to take simple steps that would have solved the problem.

In fact, the core problem, I suspect, can be seen in this comment from Kelly Tanis, the mother of five children who helped turn Jester's yard into a playground: "It's a very silly suit."

Oh, really? You mean that Jester doesn't have a right to the quiet enjoyment of her property? You mean that Jester has to put up with thoughtless trespassers and their clueless parents?

The Tanises might want to try checking the law. Apparently they aren't familiar with the concept of private property. They also apparently are too busy procreating to become familiar with the concept of common courtesy--such as abiding by your neighbor's wishes when she repeatedly makes a reasonable and lawful request to stay off her property.

Kelly Tanis might think this lawsuit is silly, but imagine if one of her children had gotten hurt on Jester's property. Who would be suing who then? Answer: The Tanises would be suing Jester out the wazoo, and Jester's homeowner's insurance would either sky rocket or she would be dropped as an insured.

If the situation was "silly," why did the Tanises sic the police on Jester when she committed a thoroughly lawful act--she picked an object off her yard that didn't belong there.

And get this: After the Tanises helped get Jester arrested, they then wanted to "negotiate" with her so the trespassing could continue. I hate to borrow a line from George W. Bush, but that's a little like "negotiating with the terrorists."

The Tanises strategy? We'll call the police on you to force you to give up your property rights. Classy isn't it? And it's exactly what Mike McGarity, our criminally inclined neighbor, tried--with the help of his ethically challenged lawyer, William E. Swatek. Just like the Tanises, McGarity had cops sent to our house when I simply cleaned up my yard of objects that didn't belong there. When that failed, McGarity tried to take over our property by filing a bogus lawsuit.

That kind of intimidation didn't work for McGarity, and it didn't work for the Tanises.

It appears the Tanises are resorting to a tactic Mrs. Schnauzer and I are familiar with--playing fast and loose with the truth. Kelly Tanis says she denies the allegations in the lawsuit, as if people and things from her yard never entered Jester's property. If that's the case, why did the Tanises want to "negotiate" about the situation?

And here's another tactic that is familiar to us: Use your children in an effort to gain public sympathy for your willingness to violate the law.
Just because kids were involved doesn't mean that Jester has to give up her property rights. It doesn't mean the issues aren't serious. And it doesn't mean Jester is a mean old bitter woman because she wants to manage who comes and goes on her property.

Isn't it interesting that the Tanises now seem to be concerned about the cost of litigation? Maybe they should have thought about that when Jester was repeatedly asking them to respect her property rights.

As we noted in a previous post, there are numerous ways to solve situations like this short of legal action. But both parties have to be educated about the law, both have to be rational, and both have to be considerate of the other's rights.

The Tanises don't appear to be any of these things. I believe it was Harry Truman, a great Missourian, who once famously said, "Your right to throw a punch ends at the tip of my nose."

A similar principle applies here: The right of the Tanis kids to play ball ends at the tip of Jester's property line.

The kids' parents should have known that and taken steps to solve the problem before it got into the legal realm. Based on news reports, Jester gave them multiple opportunities to do it.

I would like to see Jester's lawsuit go further and sue the city officials who were responsible for her arrest. If the Tanises were too stupid to understand the law, police officers could have solved this problem by explaining it to them.

Instead, the police left it for Jester to fight a battle she shouldn't have had to fight. I hope she wins some justice for all the headaches she's had to endure.

Finally, this case drives home an important point about our democracy. And it shows why the tampering with our justice system that has occurred under the George W. Bush reign is so destructive.

From checking comments to articles at the Cincinnati Enquirer and the popular Web site Boing Boing, the "flying footballs" case has generated strong public opinion. Sentiment seems to be running about 50-50 between those who think Jester is a "crabby, bitter old woman" and those who think the kids are "spoiled brats" with thoughtless parents.

But here's the great thing about our system--at least when sociopaths like Karl Rove aren't trying to interject politics into it at every turn: Public opinion, while it might be fun to read, should not have a thing to do with the outcome of this case.

You've probably heard this phrase: "We are a nation of laws, not of men."

Few sentences better sum up the way our justice system is supposed to work. So it doesn't matter what some men, and women, might think of Edna Jester. We have laws that are supposed to protect her property rights, and they should help her receive justice in this case.

By the way, those same laws protect the Tanises' property rights, too. Someday, the Tanises' five children will be grown and gone. The Tanises will be older, and it's possible they might enjoy having control of their own property. What if a family with four or five kids moves in next door, perhaps in the old Jester property, and decides to let them ramble all over the place?

And consider this: The Tanis kids will someday be adults, probably with homes and yards of their own. Will they find it amusing when other people's kids turn their yards into playgrounds? Maybe, maybe not.

What goes around has a way of coming around. The Tanises and their kids might think back on Edna Jester one day and decide she wasn't such a mean old woman after all.


Anonymous said...

Here it is in a nutshell. This has been going on ever since the Tanis's moved in and rented the house they live in. Mrs. Jester has asked them hundreds of times to please stop. Even after all of the negative public attention in October, the Tanis's still allowed their kids to throw a football in front of Mrs. Jester's house, laughing and mocking her the whole time. Mrs. Tanis told the local paper just recently, that her husband tried to help Mrs. Jester w/her mower and said he would mow her lawn, like he is so concerned about her. What she failed to tell the paper is that her husband said he would mow her lawn if she would give him the football back. They have abused this sweet lady for years. This situation has nothing to do with age. You don't have to be elderly to want your property respected. The Tanis's rights end at Mrs. Jester's property line...plain and simple.

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for your comment. Very interesting case, and it has generated a lot of strongly felt opinions. Hits home for me because my wife and I have been through an experience very similar to what Ms. Jester has gone through, except she is quite a bit older than us. My guess is the Tanises probably have an SUV, and I bet there are multiple public parks and schoolyards within a few miles of where they live. Why couldn't they throw the kids in the SUV and let them play til their hearts content in a wide-open space? Would be better for everyone involved. But that would involve a little effort on the parents' part, and I guess it's easier to abuse their elderly neighbor.