Ghostbusters. So, this is how my mind works. The other evening I'm watching, for no particularly good reason, an old episode of Two and a Half Men, the CBS comedy starring Charlie Sheen. In this episode, Charlie's mother, a real estate agent, bemoans the troubles she's having selling a Malibu beachhouse whose owner just committed suicide. The next morning, I'm putting together my Friday Roundup post, which you're reading now, and come across an article in Legal Blogwatch telling me that the likelihood of watching new episodes of Two and a Half Men might be affected by the three-year stint in the pokey that Sheen's looking at for a recent incident in which he threatened his wife with a knife. Scrolling down further, Blogwatch tips me off to an article in The Consumerist, which details a complaint by a Massachusetts woman who discovered that the previous owner of the house she just bought had committed suicide. The Consumerist is shocked to find that Massachusetts law does not reqire that this information be disclosed to a buyer.
So what do I do? I check out Ohio law. Oh, it's not extensive research; I simply did a Lexis search on "dislos! w/s suicide." The only case that comes up is this 1993 Butler County Common Pleas Court case. A suicide wasn't involved in that case -- the buyer was complaining that she hadn't been told of various crimes that occurred in the house and the neighborhood, including the rape of the previous owner's daughter a few months before the property closed. Turns out there's a whole theory of law on the subject: "stigmatized property." A number of states have (or had, by that time) passed laws stating that home-sellers are not liable for failure to disclose stigmatizing events, such as "homicide, suicide, felony, or death by AIDS." Ohio doesn't have one, and the judge decided that a 1984 1st District decision had legitimized the cause of action. (To show you how some judge's minds work, the 1984 case actually did involve a suicide, but the court denied relief.)
And no, I don't know whether Charlie's mother ever sold the house, or if she did, whether she told the buyers that the owner had committed suicide. Probably not; California is one of the states with a statute that specifically exempts such disclosures.
The bill comes due. This is also how my mind works. A few months back I regaled you with the story of Shawn, a client charged with leading the police on a 100 mph chase along the Shoreway here. I'd taken a close look at the cops' dashboard cam video, which showed a few seconds of the driver leaping from the car. I noticed that the driver was wearing shorts, then went out to the Euclid police station and learned from the booking card that my client had been wearing blue jeans the night he was arrested. I presented this to the prosecutor, who dropped the fleeing charge. He still wanted a plea to the other charges, receiving stolen property and attempted theft of a car, but I had hopes of working out something better the morning of trial. It became academic when Shawn didn't show up.
There have been other developments since then. Turns out Shawn had a reason for not showing up at trial: he was in jail on another matter. Hey, I didn't say it was a good reason. Still, I managed to convince (a) the prosecutor to give me a better deal, dropping the 4th degree felony and leaving only a 5th degree, (b) the judge to let Shawn out of jail, and (c) the judge to give Shawn probation if he pled. Which Shawn did.
Normally, I just send a client a letter reminding him of the sentencing date, but in this case I made a special point to call Shawn the day before. His mother answered, and mumbled something about Shawn's grandmother's funeral coming up. I told her in no uncertain terms that Shawn had to be at his sentencing the next day. He wasn't. Two weeks ago, the mother called me up, told me that she'd taken him to the funeral anyway, and wondered what they should do. I told her it was absolutely essential that he turn himself in; if he got stopped for a traffic violation, the cops would discover the warrant, and the judge would be much less impressed with the situation. We set up plans for him to be in the court the next morning.
He didn't show.
The other day I got a call from the mother. Shawn had been a passenger in a car that had been stopped for a traffic violation and... Well, you can pretty much fill in the rest. The mother asked me, "What do you think will happen?"
I said, "You haven't listened to anything I've told you so far, why would you start now?"