“Awe, Dad, I was looking forward to visiting you in jail on Thanksgiving,” my then eighteen-year-old first-born daughter, Sarah, exclaimed.
“Well, Sarah, I followed my attorney’s advice and bonded myself out by paying the $50 fee.”
“Well, maybe next year, eh?” she sheepishly smirked.
Apparently, one of my tenants had irresponsibly left his trash cans at the curbside overnight after pick-up day, one too many times. As the property owner, I was cited in violation of a local ordinance that requires trash cans be taken in, at least behind the sidewalk, no later than twenty-four hours after trash collection. I later learned—when I received the certified letter from the city—that violating this ordinance results in a $250 fine, which is prosecuted in Criminal Court.
Because by the time I was cited we had long since evicted the dilinquent tenant, I was not inclined to pay a fine for his persistent negligence. The tenant had failed to notify my property manager of the two warnings that the local standards office, a.k.a., municipal trash police, had posted on his front door. Now that he had long since moved out, I had no ability to recoup the fee from him; therefore, I resolutely determined that I was not going to pay the $250 fine.
As a corporate pilot, my fluid flying schedule precluded my presence at the criminal hearing. Consequently, more than one week in advance I contacted the prosecutor’s office to advise them that I was unavailable to attend the scheduled hearing to contest the citation. Given that I was unavailable, I would send my property manager to speak on my behalf, particularly since he was more familiar with the details of the tenant and his trash can movements. The animated attorney’s response was comical. “Oh, no! He can’t represent you; he’ll be arrested for practicing law without a license!”
“Oh, pl-e-ease,” I chuckled as I replied. “He will not be practicing law with or without a license; he will simply be speaking on my behalf as my property manager who is responsible for interacting with and supervising our tenants. Besides, he is much more familiar with the facts than I am.”
As I had tried my best to make clear to the prosecuting attorney, I was out of town performing corporate pilot duties, the day of the hearing. Therefore, my faithful friend and property manager attended in my absence. Upon entering the courtroom, before the judge arrived, the prosecuting attorney called out my name. When my property manager identified himself as present on my behalf, she advised him that he was not authorized to be present. “You need to leave, now,” she snarled. In light of this presumptuous prosecuting attorney’s aggressive intimidation, and not knowing what else to do, my property manager promptly complied with her direction and exited the courtroom.
We later learned that after the judge arrived and his clerk called out my name, no one said a word. After a brief pause, the judge directed his attention to the prosecuting attorney—the same attorney I’d previously advised of my anticipated unavoidable absence. This prosecutor, the same attorney who’d just manipulatively intimidated my property manager into departing the court room just fifteen minutes previously, failed to volunteer that I’d made her aware of my lack of availability to attend the hearing more than a week in advance. She likewise conveniently failed to advise the judge of the fact that in good faith I’d sent my property manager to speak on my behalf regarding my tenant’s trash can incident. Nor did she volunteer to the judge that she had just intimidated my property manager into abandoning the courtroom. She kept all this relevant information to herself.
The result of her silence was that the judge understood nothing other than my failure to show. Consequently, he requested of the prosecuting attorney her recommended course of action. As we later learned, she requested the judge put out a “bench-warrant” for my arrest for contempt of court since I’d failed to show for the hearing. Later in the day she called my property manager to advise him of the bench warrant. My property manager contacted me that same day and briefed me of these strange developments.
In that my corporate flying duty ended a couple days later in Dallas where I’d left a car, as I drove the three and a half hours to my hometown in Louisiana I called my attorney and sought his counsel regarding an appropriate response to this peculiar sequence of events. In that he understood that my wife and three younger children were out of town and I would be alone with my eldest over the impending Thanksgiving weekend, he advised, “David, you’d better get to the Marshal’s office before they close at 5 o’clock today and pay the $50 bond to keep yourself out of jail. If you don’t, and you and Sarah decide you need a can of cranberry sauce and a patrolman thinks he sees you roll through a stop on your way to the store, as soon as he pulls up your driver’s license information he’ll see that there’s a warrant out for your arrest. He won’t have any idea that it’s for a silly reason such as it is. He’ll just do his job and arrest you and you’ll find yourself in jail until Monday over the long holiday weekend and Sarah will have to visit you in jail on Thanksgiving.”
Ironic that to ensure I made it to the Marshal’s office before they closed for the long weekend I had to speed on the Interstate in Texas—hoping that if a Texas state trooper stopped me for speeding I wouldn’t be arrested and extradited to Louisiana.
That very afternoon, after I paid the $50 fee to bond myself out I called my property manager and implemented a new policy:
Drive by and inspect each rental property weekly, particularly the day following trash pick-up to ensure the tenants take in their trash cans. We can’t afford to be blindsided like this again.
23 Know well the condition of your flocks, And pay attention to your herds;
Although Sarah was disappointed she didn’t get the chance to visit me in jail over the long Thanksgiving weekend, after bonding myself out of jail I was notably relieved I didn’t have to worry about being arrested for such a heinous crime as failing to ensure my tenant put his trash cans back inside the sidewalk on a timely basis on pick-up day.
Stay tuned for Part II of The Trash Can Caper (Mind your assets & your business) next week.