This story is true. It involves someone I know. It provides a vivid reflection of the dysfunction of our legal system. It demonstrates why three (3) of the six (6) concepts of my Model Legal System are needed. Here you will read of the simple tale of a small landlord-tenant dispute in which the landlord received an award in the grand sum of $345 from the trial judge. But, because landlord disputes take on the vicious characteristics of a family law dispute, this particular case received the attention of the Court of Appeals. It didn't stop there. Then the State Supreme Court provided their thirteen (13) page opinion. It didn't stop there..............How many angels dance? Can you tell me the sums?
Barbara Parmenter is a crazy litigating lady with money. She is a legend in her own mind. There is nobody in Lane County Circuit Court that doesn't know of her. There are a few at the Oregon State Bar Association that have been irritated by the burr of her irrational, contentious personality. The Texas Bar Association is aware of her. Even Iowa. Ms. Parmenter has hired and fired more lawyers than Perry Mason has had clients.
Let's go back to my Model Legal System:
1. My Model Legal System #1 says the law should be simple and available for both Barbara and her tenants, the Lemons. Neither landlords nor tenants should have to resort to lawyers to resolve rental disputes. Landlord/tenant cases become even more contentious because there is a cottage industry of creepy lawyers who hang around eviction court waiting to pounce on unsuspecting landlords based on small technicalities of landlord/tenant law for a shot at attorney fees. Meanwhile, these bottom-feeder lawyers could care less about the fortunes of their clients, the tenants.
2. A landlord with money, like Ms. Parmenter, can punish people through the court system. My Model Legal System #2 opines that there should be mandatory alternate dispute resolution (ADR) systems outside the court system to resolve these disputes. Most landlord/tenant disputes are simple (though the law is complex) and could be resolved easily through a mandatory system of evaluative mediation. Now, ADR is relegated to a voluntary system AFTER one party or the other has already filed suit. Psychologically, when one files suit, they think they are in the driver's seat as Ms. Parmenter did here. Disputes should have a non-legal forum (inplace now in many cities like Portland's Neighborhood Dispute Resolution system).
3. Finally, The Model Legal System #3 states that if a matter can't be resolved through ADR systems, then trial courts should be efficient and objective, so truth can emerge through predictable, routine application of the law to the facts.
This is the fulcrum. And, currently it is an open abyss with no bottom as the litigated portion of Ms. Parmenter and the Lemon's case demonstrates. In short, the landlord-tenant law is a hopelessly complex tangle of "...if....then" syllogisms that would confuse ten Philadelphia lawyers. Existing landlord/tenant law should be tossed out in its entirety and rewritten by regular citizens with lawyers restricted to being hall monitors.
Now, let's trace what happened in trial court. As you contemplate what happened here, consider the social cost of providing these tax paid judges (who just got a raise) spending all this time on a $345 dispute. The trial court split the baby. The judge said both sides had engaged in pouring gasoline on the litigation fire and gave Ms. Parmenter $345 and the Lemons $1,000 in a complex written decision. Yes, but what about their attorney fees? Wow, there is the rub!
Again, splitting the baby, the trial judge said neither side gets their attorney fees. The tenants appealed and the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court judge, in the main. That did not please the tenants, so they appealed to the State Supreme Court.
Permit me a personal note. First, consider I have been trying to get the State Supreme Court to take select meritorious cases for twenty (20) years with no luck. They don't even tell you why, they just say "Petition on Review" denied. In a 2008 study, the University of Chicago Law School found the Oregon Supreme Court is one of the least productive high courts in the nation. Yet, they take this $345 dispute? Yes, they do.
Wouldn't you expect that this $345 matter would end there? Not on your life. The State Supreme Court ruled that this case must be sent back to the Trial Court after discussing the eight factors the Trial Court used to decide who wins. The State Supreme Court decided that only four of the eight Trial Court's reasons were "permissible". So, now this $345, five year old dispute has come full circle without resolution, courtesy of our wonderful legal system.
By the way -- how much are the attorneys wanting in this case? At the end of the Court of Appeals case they wanted a cumulative amount of about $80,000. Our legal system is sick and needs a whole-body transplant.! The landlord/tenant arena is a perfect place to start.
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