Exploiting the Law

No TrespassingFew things irritate me more than people who exploit obscure laws for personal gain at the expense of someone else. Via BoingBoing, I learned of a couple in Boulder, Colorado, a judge and an attorney no less, who’ve managed to finesse an antiquated property law called “adverse possession.” The brief version goes like this:

The Kirlins purchased a lot adjacent to Richard McLean and Edith Stevens (said judge and attorney). During all the years the Kirlins have owned the property, they paid the taxes and fees. Just to be clear, the Kirlins owned the property. Also during those years, McLean and Stevens made free use of Kirlins’ property.

Stevens and McClean landscaped their own property in such a way that it became convenient to trespass on the Kirlin’s lot to access their own backyard. Stevens and McClean created paths on the Kirlin’s property, threw summer parties on the Kirlin’s property and kept a wood pile on the Kirlin’s property. Stevens and McClean admitted in court they knew they were trespassing and never asked the Kirlins permission to use the lot. (link)

I’ll come back to that last sentence in a minute. The Kirlins, in anticipation of building a home on their property, started putting up a fence on the property line. McLean, also a previous mayor of Boulder, and Stevens sued for ownership under adverse possession.

Adverse possession is a principle of real estate law whereby somebody who possesses the land of another for an extended period of time may be able to claim legal title to that land. (link)

For some insane reason, instead of throwing out the case, a Boulder judge ruled that the Kirlins must give McLean and Stevens 1/3 of the lot. Even more painful, McLean and Stevens are asking that the Kirlins be required to pay their legal bills. On top of that insult, the Colorado Supreme Court’s Attorney Regulation Counsel refused to conduct an ethical review of the situation. The situation hasn’t gone unnoticed in the community. A protest, including signs, live music, and refreshments, happened last weekend in front of McLean’s and Stevens’ home.

Now, back to that last sentence. Stevens and McLean admit to knowing that they were trespassing and never asked permission to use the lot. I know we now live in time where we’re told to do what feels good, and we should always pursue what makes us feel happy, but this behavior is ridiculous. Stevens and McLean tried to justify their actions by saying, “they had worn paths into their neighbor’s property, calling them “Edie’s Path” and “Dick’s Path.” They became “attached” to this land that didn’t belong to them.” (link) Consider their actions in light of the oath both swore to practice law in Colorado:

I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Colorado; I will maintain the respect due to Courts and judicial officers; I will employ only such means as are consistent with truth and honor; I will treat all persons whom I encounter through my practice of law with fairness, courtesy, respect and honesty; I will use my knowledge of the law for the betterment of society and the improvement of the legal system; I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed; I will at all times faithfully and diligently adhere to the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct.

I’m curious, how well do you think their conduct keeps in line with this oath? If they loved the property so much, why not approach the Kirlins about purchasing the lot? Nope. It definitely makes more sense to try to get what you want for free through a murky real estate law. Here’s hoping that karma takes a big bite out of McLean and Stevens.


photo courtesy of ritcharnd moskow


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November 2007
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