Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Case of Characters

My jury case was full of unusual characters. I believe they are called
'witnesses' in court lingo. Each side had 3. The first two took an hour
apiece. But, Oh! How entertaining they were! The lawers were Slick
Lawyer, a St. Louis attorney specializing in Eminent Domain cases,
and MODOT Lawyer, the Columbo of the court system.

The case was another Eminent Domain. The main character was a
man in his 60s who owned 2 acres with a building on it about 50
yards (50 meters, Rebecca, Huggies, Misha, and Rachy) off Hwy 67,
a major north/south divided highway. He thought it was worth
$950,000. The state of Missouri thought it was worth $134,000.
That was our job, to figure how much money the old guy should get.

Witness #1: Barney
Barney owns a business in Cape Girardeau that deals in bulk
construction materials. He buys 10 truckloads of over-run goods,
and resells it. He can not sell it by the piece, only in large lots. He
said he used this parking lot as a satellite business location. In my
whole life, I have never seen any business being done there. He put
in some flower boxes and a manufactured home about a month
before the Missouri Dept. of Transportation took his land. He also
took plywood off the windows of the boarded up building. Barney
said he put $145,000 of repairs into the building.
MODOT lawyer: "So when did you start renting this office space
down the street?"
Barney: "Right after I was shoved off my own property by MODOT."
MODOT lawyer: "Do you have any other hate words you'd like to
throw out to impress the jury?"

Witness #2: The Land Lady
She is a well-known realtor in the area. She was old when I heard
about her as a kid in the 1970s. I swear she's about 110. As hillbilly
sayings go, 'She was old when Jesus was a pup'. She had painted on
her face, fluffed up her bleached hair, stepped into her black suede
high-heeled boots, and come to testify for Barney, whose property
was down the street from her house. She responded to both lawyers
by not answering questions directly. She ignored the judge. Several
times, he tried to stop her circuitous responses. "Miss Land Lady?
Miss Land Lady?" She didn't stop or turn her head. The judge made
Barney's lawyer tell her to answer. She had a bad case of the palsy.
She tried to camouflage it by holding a folder, but it shook so that
she looked like she was fanning the stenographer. She admitted to
MODOT Lawyer that she was paid "a lot" by Barney to appear in
court. When forced to answer, she said she got $600 for the
appraisal, and $125 per hour for the deposition and court
MODOT lawyer: "How do you know how deep the sign pedestals
were? Isn't it true you took Barney's word for it? And he took the
previous owner's word for it?"
The Land Lady: "No. I measured it."
MODOT lawyer: "How could you measure underground?"
The Land Lady: "After MODOT dug it up, I measured it."
MODOT Lawyer: "You climbed down into a 28-foot pit with a
tape measure?"
The Land Lady: "That's what I did."

Witness #3: Dorian Gray
Dorian has his own consulting firm in St. Louis that tells people how
much their hazardous waste cleanup will cost. He was very low-key
and believable. He was a fine-looking man, in his late 50s. Or so we
thought. Slick Lawyer asked him when he graduated from MIT. Yeah,
we get it...he's qualified. Dorian answered: "1956." WHAAAAT?
The guy was in his 70s. He was very well preserved. On his wedding
ring finger, he wore a Masonic ring. Maybe he played for the other
team. Not that there's anything wrong with that. He said it would
cost $45,000 to remove the tanks and water, but the soil was fine
and could be put back in the holes.
MODOT Lawyer: "How much are you charging Barney for your
Dorian: "I don't know."
MODOT Lawyer: "You have your own consulting firm, and don't
know how much you charge?"
Dorian: "I'm not the bookkeeper."
MODOT Lawyer: "Give me an estimate how much you charge for
a report like this one."
Dorian: "$2000."
MODOT Lawyer: "And how much per hour for the deposition and
to appear here?"
Dorian: "$360 per hour."

Witness #4: Road Designer Guy
RDG was a witness for MODOT. Go figure. He has worked for
MODOT his entire life. He went to a couple years of college, then
started surveying, and worked his way up in the department until
he became a highway designer. No wonder our roads are a mess.
He testified that it was necessary to take Barney's land for the outer
road project, and that he never saw any improvements or business
activity any time he was on the property.
None. He was boring and useless, and only showed the state's

Witness #5: MODOT Clone of Road Designer Guy
MCRDG read from a paper of his estimate of MODOT's expenses
incurred removing 5 old gas tanks filled with water, left from the
days the property was a gas station. He said it cost over $92,000
to remove the tanks, water, and soil, but he didn't give the full
amount. The state had to use a certain contractor for the whole
project, which is why costs were even more than $92,000.
Slick Lawyer: "Why are you trying to charge my client $92,000 for
tanks that did not have to be removed?"
MCRDG: "That's what it would have cost another contractor to
remove them for us."
Slick Lawyer: "If you hadn't taken the land to build a road, would the
tanks have had to be removed?"
MCRDG: "No. They could stay there."
Slick Lawyer: "Why did you remove dirt that was not contaminated?"
MCRDG: "This area was a cut-down. There was no need to fill in
the dirt that would have to be removed later to cut down the height
of the land."

Witness #6: Calm Angry Appraiser
CAA appraised the land and building for MODOT. MODOT Lawyer
asked him to how much work he did for MODOT, and how much he
was paid. CAA said he did 5 or 6 cases a year for MODOT, and was
paid $6000 for this one. He said he gets $240 per hour to appear in
court. His figures for the worth of the land were believable. He had
used two methods to calculate them.
Slick Lawyer: "So you say the building is worth nothing?"
CAA: "Yes. The land is worth more if it is torn down."
Slick Lawyer: "But you said that a building like this would rent for
$1500 a month. That's $18,000 a year. But you say it has a value
of $0?"
CAA: "Yes. The land it worth more to sell without the building."
Slick Lawyer: "But my client could have rented it out for $18,000
a year?"
CAA: "It wasn't rented out."
All through this exchange, Slick Lawyer tried to provoke CAA,
and put words in his mouth. CAA stared at a space between the
jury and the lawyers. His face and neck turned bright red, but he
spoke calmly and replied "I didn't say that" and "I don't understand
the question." Props to Calm Angry Guy.

Both attorneys royally kissed our a$$es during summation. Slick
Lawyer thanked us for our time, and told us how MODOT was
cheating his client by telling him his building was worth nothing,
and charging him to remove tanks and dirt that could have stayed.
MODOT Lawyer reminded us that Barney did no business there,
and had fixed it up with flower pots and a trailer house just before
take-over, and used hate words to turn us against the state. He
said we should not 'split the difference' or 'put amounts into a hat
and take the average'.

After an hour of deliberation, we reached a figure of $480,000.
We decided that the the land in that location was worth about
$4 per square foot, that the building was worth $60,000, the
sign pedestals worth nothing, the well worth $3500, and the cost
of removing the tanks was not Barney's responsibility. Some were
worried that it would look like we took half of what Barney was
asking for, but we really did work it out. We needed 9 of 12 to
sign in agreement. 10 of us signed. The case was concluded.

Best Laugh in the Jury Room: "I'm sure glad The Land Lady
wasn't here for the rest of the testimony. I'd hate to see her face
when she found out her $125 per hour was the lowest anybody
got paid to testify."


Blogger deadpanann said...

I love it. LOVE IT!

Maybe you're done with jury duty for a week or two.

7:37 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

Hi Hillbilly Mom.
Just so you now, 50 years is actually 45.72 metres, $950,000 is actually A$1,267,170.39 and $134,000 is actually A$178,737.72.

With your skills you have now gained on the jury, when will we see you take on your own televison show. "Hillbilly Decisions."?

3:56 AM  
Blogger Rachy said...

MODOT Lawyer: "You climbed down into a 28-foot pit with a
tape measure?"
The Land Lady: "That's what I did."

If you somehow managed not to laugh at this then mad props to you. HILARIOUS!

6:18 PM  
Blogger Hillbilly Mom said...

Miss Ann,
The judge thinks this was the last trial until our term is over Jan. 5. I was just starting to enjoy it...the time off work, the odd characters. Go figure.

Gosh! We gave him too much money. I would love a TV show like Judge Judy. If I could do it from the comfort of my home, with nobody to tell me what to do. I'd slap some sense into those fools.

I was in shock. The Land Lady was under oath, and she LIED! I was waiting for lightning to strike, and I was sitting only 5 feet from her. The next day, the guy I sat by while they were picking a new jury told me The Land Lady had appraised his house. He said it had been raining that day, and she didn't want to step out of the car into the mud. Climbed down a 28-foot pit indeed!

6:36 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home