Have great records.
You always hear that, but what does it mean and how do you do it? Land trust staff and volunteers that have experienced difficult disputes, whether on easement or owned land, can offer examples. They report that they communicated quickly and clearly with the landowner or neighbor, documented those communications in a phone, email, text and letter log, then documented fully all conditions on the protected property with dozens or sometimes hundreds of labelled photos, videos, descriptions, maps and aerial imagery. They diligently followed Land Trust Standards and Practices. Bob Neale, stewardship director for the Sonoma Land Trust and the lead staff for the entirety of their eight-year violation process including two appeals, said that “by following Standards and Practices diligently, we had the factual foundation in place for a solid defense that greatly supported our strong legal case.”
One of the first ways to identify facts is to prepare a timeline, including key dates such as:
- when the relationship between the parties started;
- when the contract was formed or when the conservation easement was signed; and
- when a violation occurred or other legal challenge commenced.
As part of this process, you can identify key people, including witnesses. Identify key events that did not happen, such as procedures that were not followed. In addition to thinking about the key facts, consider how the facts can be shown to the landowner or neighbor, and ultimately perhaps to a judge or jury. What facts are likely to have an emotional impact or be a critical deciding factor? Make the timeline detailed and annotate it with identification of documents that substantiate the facts.
Next month we will take a look at how a record policy and procedures can help you prevail in any dispute.
We're here to help! If you have questions, please contact us at .
Conservation Defense Coordinator
ALLIANCE RISK MANAGEMENT SERVICES LLC
(202) 800-2248 |
Adapted from: Practical Pointers for Land Trusts When Facing a Lawsuit or Other Legal Challenge of Any Size