• Lee Roth

Absence Of Common Sense On The Part Of Government


Before I went to law school I had almost no exposure or experience with the law or with lawyers. I started my time in college thinking that I would be a chemistry and math major and would go on to a career in science or in medicine.

I was greatly influenced by an uncle who was a businessman. I was also influenced by one of my early economic course professors. My thoughts about law and lawyers at that time were that legal matters were largely processed or handled in a courtroom setting. My professor convinced me that the route to business leadership was through law, not finance or marketing at that time.

A Well Drafted Agreement — Best Way To Avoid Cost

When I got to Cornell Law School I was presented with a basic balance among the courses that were requirements that I was expected to take. Because of my preconditioned understanding I was perhaps most enthusiastic about the courses that involved the courts and the court system. In law school I was influenced by my contracts professor who taught us that a well drafted agreement, that had been fully thought out, that reflected the interest of all parties to the agreement, was perhaps the best way to avoid the costs, complications, uncertainty and delays that were part of going to court to solve a legal issue.

After more than 50 years of practicing law it has become my goal to regularly attempt to avoid the courtroom, although I go there when I need to. At the start of my career I was very much attracted to the process of arguing cases in court. Because of the nature of the firm I worked in I was able to experience both a balanced and in-depth series of opportunities that allowed me the process of working directly with important clients and helping them solve both problems and take advantage of opportunities, always with an interest to get to the right answer without complications and costs of the courtroom process.

Never the less, in that firm I found myself litigating more than 20 full jury trials through to conclusion. Despite having been selected early in my career to be an instructor of lawyers who were only a year or two behind me in experience in the process of litigating cases, including jury selection, my propensity has always been to avoid litigation where possible.

Heading To Court — Path Of Last Resort

I suppose it is this background that causes me to smile when I hear people talking about the waste of time and resources when people take their disputes and viewpoints to court. This is not better illustrated than in the relation between citizens and their local government. Always, where possible, my counsel is to settle matters rather than expose oneself to the costs and uncertainty of litigation. I realize that when I find myself with a client heading to court that we are on the path of last resort in an effort to work out and settle the matter.

Absence Of Common Sense By Our Government

I look back at the number of occasions that I’ve had to go to court with my clients. If I just focus as closely and locally as possible, I get the feeling that it is largely the absence of common sense on the part of government that causes the need to turn to the uncertainty of the court system and process to resolve differences.

Just in the Borough of Flemington I found myself in court advocating on behalf of a client who wanted to construct canopies over gasoline service station pumps. In order to accomplish that goal my client had been forced to the time and expense of hearings before the board of adjustment to seek approval. When the approval had been denied at the most local level, we went to court to accomplish the client’s goal. The Court hearing the case agreed with my client. We now have canopies over all of the gas pumps in the area.

I found myself in court again with another client who wanted to build townhouses on Mine Street. Zoning allowed the application and provided that townhouses were an acceptable use on the particular property. The then incumbent Mayor decided that what was allowed by the zoning ordinance was a mistake. He politically engineered a denial of the application. Again we found ourselves in court.

The judge hearing the case stated, at the conclusion of the three day presentation of all information and evidence, that our case was an example of a local government attempting to “derail a valid application”. The town decided to appeal that decision. A three judge Appellate Division appeal panel confirmed the trial court, making it clear that the municipality had no business appealing that decision based on the record that was developed and presented to them.

No Developer Investing In Our Community?

There are other local examples. The most recent example of the absence of common sense is the borough engaging in a program of redevelopment not designed for the facts found in Flemington, but designed for a community that is so down and out, and so filled with slum-like buildings, that no reasonable developer would consider investing in the community without special concessions being granted. The Mayor and his supporters have tied up the property, the entire center of town, so that no one, except their selected developers, could step forward and do anything with that area of our community.

Attempting To Protect The Lifestyle

This is a case I’ve not been directly involved in as a lawyer, but have observed closely from the sidelines as a property owner located directly across the street from the tied up property. A group of civic minded citizens, attempting to protect the lifestyle of all of the residences, as well as themselves, have stood up to the local government that would allow a developer to destroy the historic center of town. It is hard to understand what the government officials backing this program were thinking or had in mind. Perhaps some day someone will explain.

With some changes of personnel, this is the government that discouraged improvements proposed by owners of the historic hotel property in the center of town. According to people involved in representing the hotel at the time, they were told that the property lacked adequate parking and the owners were unlikely to be successful with the development application to improve their property. This is the same government unit that allowed an important and powerful political business to divide the parking lot away from the hotel property and dedicate it to the exclusive use of the perceived to be powerful political business.

A Lawsuit Both Expensive And Unsuccessful

This is the same government unit that attempted to keep a license to sell alcohol beverages, a license owned by the hotel owners, on Main Street by suing those private business license owners. The sin of the license owners was that they responded to the unwillingness to allow them to improve their property by selling their alcoholic beverage license to a new restaurant opening on the edge of town. So the license was moved across the highway and away from the central business district. That lawsuit, filed by and on behalf of the local government, was as one might predict, both expensive to the tax payers and unsuccessful. It cost the government officials, personally, nothing out of their pockets.

This is the same government unit, in a desperate attempt to revitalize the center of town, selected two successive redevelopment groups that failed in spectacular fashion. This is the same government, that after those failures of judgment in the selection of redevelopers, desperately sought a third developer and essentially agreed to allow him to do whatever he wanted. They did what they did in order that something, anything, might happen during this government’s tenure in office.

What Will Happen Next?

Local citizens liking, perhaps loving, their town and the community of which it was part, dug into their pockets and launched a legal fight to try to preserve their history, and the town traditions, and the community life style. They surprised the local government, and its selected redeveloper, by digging as deeply as they needed to retain the services of a competent lawyer, and to sustain the battle to fight for what they believed in.

They won several fights. They fought in court, the attempt of the mayor to help his friend, the thought to be powerful political business, to include it’s property in the development project. They lost the first round, but are in the process of filing an appeal. They make a valiant attempt to save the life style they sought by moving to, or investing in, or living in, the Flemington community.

What will happen next?

What will the appeal court say?

What will the voters say?

#government #court #EconomicDevelopment #Flemington #CommonSense

Copyright 2020 - Lee B. Roth  | 91 Main Street, Flemington, NJ 08822 

908.782.5317 | lbr@lawroth.com 

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