Feuding neighbors: Ongoing dispute costs county thousands | TheUnion.com

Feuding neighbors: Ongoing dispute costs county thousands

In the nearly three years since Susan Greenawald and Joanne Evers moved next door to Hope Justice, Nevada County Sheriff’s deputies have been called by the battling neighbors more than 100 times and have responded more than 50 times.

Mutual requests for restraining orders were denied. Three misdemeanor cases against Justice have been dismissed, and she was fined Thursday on a barking dog infraction. Seven requests for prosecution are pending.

Neighbor disputes are nothing new in Nevada County, but the ongoing dispute between Greenawald and Justice – on Sunny Hill Lane, off Allison Ranch Road south of Grass Valley – stands out for both its length and the cost to the county.

Greenawald, Evers and Justice (Hope Justice is the 55-year-old woman’s given name) were in court Wednesday after Justice was cited for a “nuisance by animal” infraction on June 28.

Justice was found guilty and fined $245, but is planning an appeal, saying, “I am not going down easily.”

Greenawald declined repeated requests for comment for this story, saying, “the matter is being handled by the courts.”

Such conflicts may be the natural result of urbanites moving into rural areas.

Nevada County resident Tim Jensen, who practices law in Auburn, has a unique perspective on such issues. Jensen represented Lou Sans, a man who reported a murder-for-hire plot to authorities in 2003 after a Lake of the Pines man asked him to find a hit man to kill his neighbor.

“Why do these situations get so inflamed? Proximity,” Jensen said. “They have an emotional investment in their property, and they have to see their adversary daily or weekly.”

Jensen litigates a lot of property line disputes, and often sees “people from the flatlands” move to the foothills and become entangled in issues with property boundaries or code enforcement.

“They go ballistic,” Jensen said. “They’ll pay a lot – it’s like divorce.”

“We’ve received well over 100 calls” to the Justice and Greenawald properties, said Nevada County Sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Powell. “Normally, they are noise complaints.”

Whenever a complaint comes in, law enforcement must respond. And if the situation does not get resolved, the case gets forwarded to the Nevada County District Attorney’s Office for prosecution.

And according to District Attorney Cliff Newell, six or seven requests for prosecution against Justice are waiting for review.

Newell did not want to estimate the cost to his office, because deputies spend anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour reviewing a standard misdemeanor case.

“Law enforcement is probably in a worse position,” Newell said. “If they are frivolous complaints and are going to bog the system down for no good reason, then we just won’t file them.

“We will always look at the requests,” Newell added. “We won’t ever automatically shove them in a drawer. But we do have to do some sort of triage.”

If the district attorney’s office files a criminal complaint, a jury trial costs the taxpayers for clerical time, a judge, bailiffs, and attorneys.

“It gets to be a costly endeavor,” Newell said.

Since August 2007, sheriff’s deputies have been out to the Sunny Hill Lane properties a combined 55 times.

“We probably spend, on average, about an hour to an hour and a half on a call for service” to the Sunny Hill feud, said Nevada County Sheriff’s Lt. Joe Salivar. “It’s probably more like two hours, once you factor in the drive time.”

When you add the dispatcher’s time, and the time it takes to investigate the incident and to write and file a report, each call for service costs about $230 to $250, Salivar said – more than $13,000 over the three-year duration of the feud.

“It’s all paid for by the taxpayers,” Salivar said.

Justice has filed complaints against at least eight deputies, alleging harassment and biased reporting. She also alleged that deputies have trespassed onto her property by climbing locked gates and have threatened her, according to complaints filed in April 2009, August 2009 and August 2010.

Two deputies now are being sent out on any call to Sunny Hill because of the deteriorating relationship between the sheriff’s office and Justice, said Powell. And that means responding to calls has gotten more expensive.

Animal Control officers also have devoted a lot of resources to Sunny Hill Lane; Justice has had from one to four dogs on her property in the three-year period. Officer Chris Daley patrolled for barking dogs six times, for a total of three hours, in response to just one complaint filed by Greenawald in March 2008.

In February 2008, Greenawald wrote on a complaint: “The (dogs) bark every morning, often starting very early … We have asked her to do something about it, but she refuses. Even in hot weather, we have to sleep with all windows closed and use ear plugs.”

On a log compiled and submitted to Nevada County Animal Control between Nov. 22, 2008, and Jan. 1, 2009, Evers logged 26 instances, some of which she noted were “ALL DAY.”

Between July 2 and July 17, 2009, Evers and Greenawald logged 20 incidents.

In July of this year, Greenawald submitted a new complaint, which stated, “Justice encourages her dogs to bark with praise and treats,” according to a report filed by Officer Stefanie Geckler.

County officials don’t foresee any end to the hostilities.

“It’s a quality of life issue, and it’s unfortunate the parties can’t figure out a resolution amongst themselves,” Newell said. Justice has refused mediation, he added.

“We tried to get them to come together, but Hope Justice refuses to change her lifestyle,” Powell said. “Both sides need to bend on this … People reach the boiling point and they can go over the edge.”

Justice acknowledged that she refused mediation services, saying there was no point.

“I’m just living my life,” Justice said. “I refuse to be bullied.”

Justice has boxes and thick binders stuffed full of documents and “contemporaneous notes” on her three-year war with Greenawald.

“This is what my life has become,” she said, gesturing at the piles of paperwork on her dining room table. “It’s horrible. I shouldn’t have to live like this.”

Justice has lived at her house off Allison Ranch Road since 1997; Greenawald bought the house next door in April 2007, Justice said.

Although both parcels are more than five acres, the residences sit about 100 feet from each other, with an easement leading from Justice’s property to allow access to Greenawald’s parcel.

Justice has a vegetable garden and a chicken coop on the side of her property nearest Greenawald’s house.

She likes to listen to the radio while she works outside, and turns it on loud enough to be heard in the garden – and, by extension, loud enough for Greenawald to hear. Justice used to turn on the music inside the house, but now has a boombox on an outside deck that faces the garden.

The conversations between the neighbors allegedly have been contentious, with back-and-forth complaints about barking dogs and driving too fast on the gravel road up to the adjoining properties, Justice said.

Greenawald first called the Sheriff’s Office in August 2007, four months after moving in, with a loud music complaint, according to call logs. Justice said she was painting her fence and had the music on.

Justice called law enforcement on Oct. 22, 2007, alleging her neighbors turned their music on loudly in retaliation for her music, according to dispatch logs.

Greenawald reported in March 2008 that Justice was “intentionally and maliciously” playing music very loudly, and that this had been an ongoing problem, according to a report filed by Deputy Elaine Lacroix. Justice was argumentative and refused to consider listening to music on an iPod, Lacroix wrote.

In May 2008, Greenawald called in a noise complaint, saying she “has attempted to approach Justice in a neighborly way,” but was met with threats of arrest, according to a report filed by Lacroix. Justice refused to come to the gate or answer the telephone, according to the report.

Justice reported two incidents of vandalism, with a television cable being cut, in September 2008. In January 2009, Justice alleged Greenawald tried to kill her chickens by poking holes in the water dishes, according to an Animal Control report.

In March 2009, Justice’s mother, Claudia Justice, called authorities to report Greenawald allegedly had been inside her yard wearing gloves and carrying a white plastic bag, and that the power had been turned off, according to a report filed by Deputy Phil Carpenter.

A photo taken by Claudia Justice and given to Carpenter shows a woman in the yard, but Carpenter wrote the image was blurred to the point where he could not identify the person.

A surveillance video given to Carpenter showed a woman wearing gloves with a white plastic bag over her head, apparently turning the electrical circuit breaker off at the power pole, according to the police report.

Carpenter wrote in his report that there was no probable cause for an arrest because of the extensive history between the two parties, the lack of an independent witness and the lack of definitive evidence.

Greenawald said she had gone onto Justice’s property to deliver a letter, and could not remember whether the gate was open or locked, according to Carpenter’s report.

She said she ran back because Hope’s mother let the dogs out, and she was afraid they would attack her. She denied turning off the power.

In March 2009, Greenawald filed a request for a restraining order against Justice, and Justice counter-filed.

Greenawald claimed Justice harassed her with unnecessary noise, including barking dogs, heavy machinery, crowing roosters and loud radios and televisions. In response, Justice claimed Greenawald had trespassed on her property, filed false reports, screamed at her and made obscene gestures.

Both requests were denied.

In October 2009, Justice was charged with one misdemeanor count of maliciously disturbing another person with loud and unreasonable noise; a second misdemeanor case was filed in November. Both cases were dismissed.

Justice then was charged in January of this year with a horn-honking infraction. She was found guilty in March, but the case was dismissed at sentencing because it was discovered the charge only applied to vehicles being operated on a highway.

In May, Justice again was cited for loud and unreasonable noise, but the District Attorney’s office declined to prosecute.

In court Wednesday for Justice’s “nuisance by animals” infraction, Greenawald testified she got home from work at about 7:30 p.m. on June 29 and she could hear loud music and barking dogs starting at about 7:45 p.m.

She told Nevada County Superior Court Judge Sean Dowling she recorded the noise by placing a camera on a second-story porch facing Justice’s house. Greenawald testified the dogs barked until about 9 p.m., and the music continued until about 10 p.m.

“I don’t know if you (do this) to annoy your neighbors, or because you want the freedom of living outdoors and doing whatever you want,” Dowling told Justice after viewing part of the DVD.

Dowling found Justice guilty, saying the video was “extremely persuasive” as to the frequency of the barking.

“I find she takes no responsibility for her actions,” Dowling said.

Justice was teary-eyed after the ruling.

“There’s no justice here,” she said.

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail lkellar@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4229.

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