Thinking like a lawyer

Writers write. I’d rather call this by that name, but I would have to use it over and over.

I will call it Think like a lawyer because that is something useful and worth putting into words. I haven’t even done anything legal–that is a poor choice of words–yet but it has benefited me. I remember when I felt I had learned to really write, what a great feeling that was. I wouldn’t put this, the ability to think like a lawyer, up there with that, but it is gratifying and a relief. For now I will call it soothing.

For any real lawyers who might read this, I certainly cannot claim to be an experienced or effective person with a career in it. At the same time, I hope to accomplish things, perhaps including some that licensed attorneys cannot, pro se (without a lawyer) and in small claims court (lawyers not allowed).

Is thinking like a lawyer learning lots of new words, like scienter? Its meaning may or may not be loosely based on the word science, but it is a legal term meaning a lie. You could use it to impress someone maybe, or to prove to them you know what you are talking about and that you mean business. It is fun to learn new words that have purpose and history, but that is not thinking like a lawyer.

For me, thinking like a lawyer–I am about halfway through my minimalist education, which I will explain later in this post–is being able to put together a case or respond to one in a rational and legal way. Since I am and will remain an amateur lawyer, that means knowing the basics and where to go for more if I need it.

Remember professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase? He was the contracts professor who kept saying “I will train your mind and you will teach yourselves to think like a lawyer.”

Thinking like a lawyer can include the word scienter because its use could help to prove or disprove a case. I’ll use it in an example.

I am having an ongoing feud with the Evergreen Parks and Recreation Department, a local special district which provides park space, a recreation center, and classes. Approximately 15 years ago they purchased a 17-acre triangle of land between my home and neighborhood and a busy state highway. This property (Stagecoach Park) has a little league field, lacrosse field, benches and picnic tables, and tot lot. The neighborhood adjacent to the is rather small (about 300 homes), the area is at 7,500 feet and mountainous, and the park is relatively secluded; most users live nearby and walk there (except during games or practices on the athletic fields) while others drive to the small parking lots.

Evergreen, Colorado is in unincorporated Jefferson County and the only law enforcement agency besides the state “patrol” is the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. Signs posted by the EPRD at Stagecoach Park and all their locations (approx. 10) say call 911, “Animal Control” (a non-sworn department within the sheriff’s department that helps enforce the animal ordinance from the county commission), and the EPRD Park Ranger.

My home overlooks the park and I am afraid to go there. Nearby residents and drive-there visitors use the park specifically to let their dogs run free. Seldom do they pick up after them. That there is no ranger or supervision is well known. At times there are three or four dogs running at large–defined as not just off a leash– while people play softball, talk on phones, or do other things. I have been attacked several times. It is not safe without a guard dog of your own. Other crimes including commercial activities, motorized vehicles, unapproved private parties, abandoned vehicles, and occur frequently. Without even trying, I see it all from my house on a daily basis.

Jefferson county sheriff’s department deputies will not respond and I have been threatened/told not to call them; I have pictures of deputies in their SUVs with dogs running at large (“at large” is more severe than “dog off leash”) behind them; they will not even get out of the vehicle; nothing is ever said, and they leave. That is if they show-up at all. Animal Control will say “What do you want us to do, give them a warning?” That is, if they choose to show-up after arguing, which is almost always way too late. Pictures, videos, and emails will not help. They will not actually respond.

In 15 years, and I have made “hundreds” or close-to-that number of reports, with pics and video, and not one citation has ever been issued.

Pretending we are in small claims court and as a non-lawyer, how do I handle it? Thinking like a lawyer, what is my case?

Here is a little more background on the EPRD “ranger.” A small amount of checking proves that the phone number belongs to a maintenance manager. I have called dozens of times–live, at real incidents–and have never received a reply. How can a ranger be at ten properties at the same time anyway? It is a complete scam: there is no ranger. There definitely is no ranger in terms of doing what park rangers normally do.

This is (a) scienter or lie, which is not a common word and I don’t know if it is a noun or verb. In legal terms it is fraud and it can be the basis for a tort claim.

In addition, the long battle of reporting it shows both intention and negligence. The EPRD is knowingly and intentionally putting people in danger.

Isn’t it the responsibility of the sheriff’s department to to enforce the law? Yes, and we will get to that. For now, I’ll just say res ipsa loquitor, or it is what it is. It would not be happening “but-if”–another new word I learned–the park wasn’t there or if the park owners were doing something about the crime and danger (maybe I need some help with the writing instead of the diction!).

The fraud goes deeper. I lived here when the EPRD sought a millage to buy the land and create a public park; the offer and “time” since–don’t know yet how to apply that legal principal–was not and is not for a doggy park. Remember what I wrote that I cannot use the park because of the safety issue and the unusual situation in that there is no one to call if there is an incident. I believe the EPRD’s behavior is both negligent and intentional and I can prove it. Finally, their overall intransigence (not a legal term, to my knowledge) contributes to the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

I didn’t say I have it all worked out, but that is the gist of thinking like a lawyer. There are details within the details, but that is a case, and there are ways to initiate it and to defend it.

Let me see here, loose ends, I don’t want to keep the reader in suspense. Who is liable, the EPRD or the sheriff? I contend both, in separate ways. One could consider the EPRD 100% responsible, but that doesn’t even matter, they are culpable enough because of the but-if rule. The sheriff will receive an intimidating a witness claim once I figure out how to do that–claim, that’s a new word I learned for a lawsuit!

Damages? How about a refund of all my tax payments to the EPRD. It is allowed to ask and it does not hurt to ask. “Things,” there goes my writing ability again, will happen as a result of asking.

There is no point trying to argue with the nonexistent ranger (i.e., employee who is just following instructions) because now I have a course of action. Another part of thinking like a lawyer, Professor Kingsfield doesn’t matter and the only thing that does are the components of the case. Nonetheless, I will throw in and remember another media tidbit (need link). The 20/20 program on the Austin, TX judge who dealt with the same criminals in several cases over years until they finally came to her house and shot her in the driveway. She survived, pursued it of course and won; obviously she knew the system, but she displayed memorable and amazing patience. She showed, you have to do it in a considered approach within the system or it will not work.

Think like a lawyer. Put your ducks in a row. Have a plan, or at least a theory or approach, before opening your mouth. Then, when you do it will carry a lot more weight.

How I am Preparing Myself:

Coursera Introduction to American Law

http://www.ericejohnson.com/audio/slides/Torts_Lightning_Review_slides.pdf

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