Let Them Play
Legal technology is helping thousands of regular people to solve legal problems in their everyday lives. Most people are wary of the legal system’s various snares, expense and waste of time.
A great example is the experience of Janice, a homeowner who was able to use a variety of legal technologies to achieve peace of mind in a property dispute without all the hassle of going to court. This is her experience in her own words.
Welcome Janice. Set the scene for us.
It was a strange situation. We have been living in the same house in a quiet neighborhood for over 10 years. It’s a family community, very quiet, but lovely with rolling, green hills. My husband Brian and I love our home, the city, and the property we have here.
What was the dispute?
The issue arose with our neighbor and the neighborhood children. There is a beautiful little path that runs behind the houses on our block. It’s bordered by large oak trees on one side and the fences of our backyards on the other and is about a 1/8th of a mile long. The path is superbly located to serve as a shortcut across the neighborhood for children walking to school, adults jogging in the morning, cyclists looking to shorten their route, and so forth. We loved it because our children could play back there, having a grand old time without being far from home. If they were on that side of the neighborhood, they could use the path to come home more directly, through the back gate. My sons were getting really into mountain biking in their early teens and started building a dirt course back there. They would wait until it rained and then built jumps and various features that were fun to ride on. I insisted they wear helmets, but otherwise, everything going on back there was healthy and fun activity for children and adults alike. The problem came when new neighbors moved in and they didn’t like that so many people were cutting by the back of their backyard. I thought it was totally silly. They’re overly protective of their children and you can tell that the kids and the parents are a little bit off.
How did the neighbors proceed?
They filed a request with the city to have the path blocked by city gates. It was petty and wrong. No one in the neighborhood really knew what was going on until one day city workers showed up and welded wrought-iron gates at either end of path, completely sealing it off unless you were willing to jump over it, which would block 9/10 travelers, especially those with bikes.
What was your response?
Well my husband and I were quite disturbed. We started investigating the claim that was filed with the city and doing research. We contacted a number of the city’s employees including the City Attorney, Community Relations, Public Information, Parks and Recreation, among others. What we discovered was strange – the property behind our houses was potentially zoned as a piece of a local park across the street. The path, depending on how the boundaries were interpreted could have formed the handle to the park’s pan. The City Attorney informed us that if we were able to document the path’s utility to the community, he could convince a judge that the interpretation of the park’s boundaries could include our path.
I understand that you used a variety of legal technologies to do so?
Yes, my husband is fairly tech savvy and so we began using his iPhone to document people being turned away by the gate on their way into the path. I recorded a number of videos interviewing these same folks and posting the videos on Youtube and sharing them on Facebook with everyone in the neighborhood. We posted them on the city’s Facebook page as well. Everyone was taken aback that the path had been closed and the interviews demonstrated the utility of the path. I interviewed them about how they used the path, how often and other relevant questions and compiled the list into a spreadsheet that I shared with a good lawyer and the City Attorney. We also created a Survey Monkey about the path and emailed it to all the neighbors. Over 50 families filled it out, documenting the path’s utility to their family. We also shared the results of the survey with the City Attorney. Armed with images of the path and residents who regularly used it, Youtube interview videos, and the Survey Monkey results, the City Attorney was able to bring the case to a judge and have the path codified officially as part of the park. Legal technology was critical to the success of our efforts. Couldn’t have done it without it.
How did the neighbors react?
They knew that we were conducting this campaign and stayed pretty much silent. I think they were dismayed that anyone cared so much about the path, but it’s really important to a lot of folks, as we learned. Once the city came and tore down the fences, things returned to normal. We were never close with them anyway, so nothing much has changed except that the kids can keep riding their bikes, joggers can keep jogging and neighbors call me the “Youtube Lady”.
This Guest Post is contributed by David Williamson.