Thursday, April 29, 2021

Heartbreaker

 An Amish man appealed to my husband for aid, and the story was brought to me. A local township had walked into an Amish school in the middle of the school day, taken possession of it, and locked it up. 

It's a long drawn out story, years in the making, but winnowing it down to the bare facts, it goes like this: the township has run sewer lines. Several of these lines cross Amish property. The Amish, of course, do not tap into them. They do not have indoor plumbing. The township is insisting that the Amish pay a monthly sewage payment ($65) anyway. 

To me, it is simple. It would be like an electric company insisting on payment from the Amish because the lines pass in front of their homes. They don't. Their bills are sent out based on usage. The Amish don't use electricity, so they don't get a bill. 

Yet the township has spent lots of money fighting this, and have placed liens on Amish properties. The Yoder farm, a spread worth a couple hundred thousand dollars has been sold to a neighbor for $27,000 over unpaid sewage bills. That sale is being fought in court even now and the deed has not transferred. 

The Amish do not believe in hiring attorneys. However, if an attorney offers them his services, they will take him up on it. Unfortunately, I believe they have a lawyer who is worth just about what he is being paid. 

The appeal to the sale of the school house was not done within the time frame. Their lawyer claims that there was no notification. It's a bit tricky. Somewhere along the line, the deed to the school was attributed to The Old Amish Order. Correspondence was sent to them. A member of that order traveled from another state to tell them that this was not their concern, leading me to wonder if this was legal advice offered early on to 'protect' the building from legal action (think separation of church and state). 

When asked about contact, the lawyer had said there was no school board, that the 19 school children were educated in accordance with the teachings of the local Amish community. No names were provided, no points of contact. I'm sure the lawyer felt himself very clever. 

And so, the school was sold, for a little over $2000. 

The lawyer could have appealed it then, but did not.

The township resorted to self help, walking in and taking over the school in front of the students. 

The lawyer could have challenged that seizure in court. He did not. 

Now, three months later, he came in to try to have the deed transfer voided. 

Today, I sat in court and I listened. The case started at 9:30. The bailiff was sent to look for the lawyer and his Amish clients. The I listened to the laughter from the other side as they ridiculed the challenge to their authority. 

Finally, it began, and the lawyer's strategy seemed to be (from where I sat anyways, which was directly behind three Amish men)  a continuation of his legal machinations, his attempts to obfuscate. He had appointed a schoolboard, made up of the three Amish men sitting in court that day. He was now requesting that the sale be voided because the township had not notified the school board. 

The judge chided the lawyer. In previous cases, he had said 'x' and today he said 'y'. His story and his challenges changed not once, but over and over. The case was quickly dismissed. 

Mose looked at me after the judge made her ruling. The three men followed their lawyer into the back room. I did not follow. 

I feel bad for these people. I honestly do. The men were completely out of their league and did not appear to understand why the judge was refusing to void the sale. In effect, she was saying "It's too late." She commented that had the appeal to the sale been filed in a timely manner, they would have won their case, the seizure of the property had been illegally done, but that now, three months after the deed transfer it was too late.

If I am asked my opinion, I will give it to them as plainly as I can. They claim to be men of God, living their lives as God intended. The Order itself is not in agreement on how this sewage situation should be handled. Some believe that the monthly bill should simply be paid.

 As unfair as it seems, I lean that way myself. 

I look at it like this: I live in a democracy. I pay taxes for 'the good' of that democracy. Part of that money goes to fund military action in Afghanistan, to the tune of 100 billion dollars a year. That is obscene, in my opinion, since most of that money is handed over to a government that is not required to account for it. It simply disappears into the pockets of the leaders. We are propping up a government that shows little interest in weaning itself off the money of other governments or in assisting its people.

Now, understand, I feel very strongly about this, and I could really make a case for not paying my taxes because of it. And I could waste a lot of time arguing the case in court, trying to exhaust the funds of the other side. In the end, I would lose. My property would be seized.

If you believe as I do, you would think it pretty unfair. But I also believe that I live in a democracy, which means that I don't always get my own way. Regardless, I don't get to refuse to participate because I don't like it. 

The Amish are a group of people who live by different standards. The advice that I would give them, if asked is simple. "You cannot make a case based on your religious beliefs by using legal deceit and trickery. The two things are incompatible. This lawyer is making you look very bad." 

I don't know what they will do, but they have lost a school house. 

They are also losing considerable dignity, but that's just my opinion. 

We finally got our rain, today, and I walked home in it. pondering lawyers who believe themselves smarter than they actually are, about big township fish living grandly in their small ponds, and about the hills we choose to die on. 

15 comments:

  1. Your last paragraph is excellent. I believe here in Ireland a lot of smallholders didn't want compulsory power lines on their land because they didn't want a utility bill then and they had never had one before.

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  2. What an interesting post Debby. In my many visits to the US I have visited several Amish communities - I find their way of life interesting. But as a teacher I always feel sad for the children who have no choice but to be brought up into a way of life foreign to most of their contemporaries.

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  3. You live in a Constitutional Republic.

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  4. Yes we live in a Constitutional Republic, a nation of laws, which makes your point, Debby, all the more valid: we don’t always get our way. Heartbreaking indeed.

    I wish they had been represented by a lawyer experienced in religious liberty cases, as that might have been a better position to take from the beginning.

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  5. We all pay for things we never use and we can be vocal about some of them, but that is what society is all about. There is quite enough pandering to religious interests in the world and it is wrong.

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  6. I feel sympathy. I think this was badly handled on all sides. I am sure they pay other taxes, but I understand why they feel that this one is unfair. This comes from a guy who thinks that the world would be a better place if we could free ourselves from religions. I don't expect that this will be a popular opinion. :)

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  7. But, AC, I understand that opinion.

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  8. Somehow you get the feeling that those who put the sewer lines across Amish land knew what they were up to...

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  9. I live near Tampa and we have a choice of county sewer or septic tank in our yard. If we do not hook on the sew we do not pay even though the line may cross our property. I am sorry the Amish did not have better atty's. How about the family that lost the farm, can they buy it back from the buyer for the 27.000.00? Most Amish farms are beautiful. We have a large settlement of Amish in Sarasota, some come just for the winter. They ride black theww wheek bikes, even older women.

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  10. The buyer was waiting for his moment to get the farm. He's not interested in giving it back. He's fighting to get the deed transferred.

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  11. GZ, they knew. It was unavoidable really. You have Amish land next to English land. They are neighbors.

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  12. I approach taxation the same way you do -- the government does a lot of things I don't like, but I do pay my taxes. A sewer fee, though, isn't a tax, it's a user fee designed for the users of a municipal service. I don't see how local government could charge people for NOT having a sewer connection, especially if they don't have one as a matter of religious practice. Someone needs to take that to the Supreme Court. I don't see how it would stand.

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  13. I feel for those Amish and they shouldn't have to fight to retain their land in court over sewer line usage. I know all Amish are different and the ones I live in might not be like the ones in your area, but the Amish here a lot of times make things way harder on themselves in the name of their religion. Like you alluded to, had they hired someone worth their salt, they probably would have easily won this but instead, took what was offered that gained them nothing.

    Our Amish, all live outside of towns so aren't so bothered by city laws which is probably fortunate for them. But we've had our share of court cases over the years and they almost have always ended badly for the Amish for the reason I mentioned above.

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