Posts Tagged ‘harassment’

sopranosIn Hawaii, a Molokai couple won a $3.9 million verdict against their Homeowners’ Association (HOA) and individual defendants when the Maui jury found that they had been subjected to bullying, threats, harassment and intimidation from their own HOA Board members and others in the complex.  Jim and Nancy Bevill were subjected to what their lawyer, Terry Revere, called a “campaign of intimidation” that spanned over 6 years and went as far as killing pets, vandalizing cars, death threats and constant intimidation at the Ke Nani Kai Condominiums in Maunaloa.  Revere compared the Bevills’ experience to the equivalent of a John Ford western, where an isolated town is run by a villain and his collection of thugs.  More details are here: http://aiminst.com/maui.

A nightmare, to be sure, the case lasted for 4 years – the trial alone spanning 8 weeks – and included an estimated $1.5 million in combined attorneys’ fees, with claims ranging from negligence to federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act violations.  The Bevills’ complaint says that the board members treated the complex like their own “personal fiefdom”, using the resident manager and handyman as the “thugs” to enforce their rule, with the latter having a criminal record and claiming ties to organized crime.

The Bevills, who relocated to Hawaii from California in 2004, were awarded damages including $500,000 in general damages and over $3 million in punitive damages against the HOA Board and Association (generally not covered by insurance), as well as by three individual board members, the former resident manager, and the handyman.

It seems that the trouble all began when the Bevills brought in an independent handyman to complete renovations to their unit, over the objections and pressure of board members, who seemed to trade protection with the handyman. When the Board’s intimidation was unsuccessful, the Bevills soon found themselves at odds with the board, labeled as “troublemakers” and the target of escalated harassment, which included the handyman making lude gestures with his genitalia toward Mrs. Bevill when she was home alone.

Former 2nd Circuit Judge Joel August, who heard some of the case’s early portions, said that the outcome should serve as a strong example of why condo associations should resolve their disputes early and avoid protracted legal action, when possible.  Apparently, Bevill made an offer to settle prior to trial for less than 10% of the eventual verdict, but the offer was rebuffed by the defense.  “This case,” said August, “if nothing else, should be the poster child for the idea that alternative dispute resolution is the way to go.”  He said that resolving this dispute through mediation or even arbitration would have been a “much smarter” choice.

California law has Civil Code Section 919 requiring homeowner certain disputes in associations to be mediated prior to filing any kind of administrative or legal action.  Perhaps if Hawaii had such a law, this situation could have been resolved much earlier and ended much better.

While mediation doesn’t always resolve all of the conflict between people, it does offer those in conflict the opportunity to sit down with a neutral person to facilitate the dialogue and keep it positive and results oriented. For more on mediation, please check out Stories Mediators Tell [http://aiminst.com/stories].

Looking at the Ke Nani Kai HOA conflict, there was an opportunity for the Bevills to request mediation with the offending board members and contractor.  Had mediation occurred early on, especially had it been required under the CC&R’s, things may have been manageable before they got out of control.

Once the lawsuit was filed, August said that both he and another judge tried to assist the parties in settlement discussions, but such attempts were unsuccessful.  This is not surprising, given that the early resolution of conflicts brings the parties together to have discussions before emotions escalate as fully as they did in this conflict.  The later the resolution attempt, the more difficult it is to get parties to see eye to eye and work together toward a resolution. As this case progressed, huge amounts of legal fees were expended, and the entire complex had divided down the middle.  Once a case has become this volatile, attempts at resolution require an extraordinary amount of de-escalation before resolution can be attained.

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ABC.com file photo of facebook front pageLane New, a 16-year-old Arkansas boy, convinced a local prosecutor to file misdemeanor harassment charges against his mother Denise for allegedly changing his Facebook password without his permission and posting personal information about him on his Facebook page.  Denise explained that she was exercising her parental rights because some of her son’s posting reflected what she believed was reckless behavior, including driving 95 miles-per-hour one night after a fight with a girl.  Denise is going to court on May 12.  See:  “Arkansas Teen Accuses Mom of Facebook Harassment

As always, there is a story behind this conflict, although the facts are few.  Denise went through a divorce five years ago and after she wrestled with mental health problems, Lane moved in with is grandmother with Denise declaring that she could not adequately supervise him at the time.

After reading and being shocked by her son’s Facebook posts, Denise evidently decided to take strong measures by locking him out and impersonating him, including posting some things of her own and conversing with his friends.

Clearly this is a mother and son who suffer from a difficult relationship and little, if any, ability to communicate.  But there were many choices available to Denise.  When faced with choices, we have an opportunity to pause and consider, not just the short term relief we may feel by venting our own frustration, but the long term effects of our actions in this moment.  Upon discovering the disturbing posts, Denise had time to consider her actions.  Unfortunately, instead of pausing to allow herself a moment to think strategically, it looks like she reacted emotionally and probably drove a wedge between her son and her that will be very difficult to heal.

In this conflict, Mom’s real interest seems to be the safe care and protection of her son.  Her son seems concerned about his privacy, independence, and the respect he wants to be afforded as a young adult.  Mediation would help them address these issues, matters the criminal court would consider irrelevant.  And it would result in an agreement born from their better understanding each other and from their realization that the others’ motives aren’t as evil as they first feared.

Ironically, Facebook’s slogan, “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life” in this case was the opposite.  Lane and his mother turned to facebook precisely because they were unable to connect and share with each other.  While I believe that Facebook and other social media outlets have many advantages and are excellent communication tools, they are, unfortunately, a poor conflict-resolution forum.

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