When I was just out of law school, a family member asked me to find a lawyer for a potential land dispute. I met with a top-notch civil litigator in Eastern North Carolina. He expressed confidence in my family member’s legal position and agreed to represent him. As we were concluding our meeting, I asked the lawyer what he intended to do.
“Nothing,” he said. I suggested a fiery letter to let the adjacent landowner know that we had him as our lawyer and meant business, but he said, “why throw fuel on a fire?”
The lawyer followed with a story about his first land dispute. When he joined a firm in the early 1960s that his father founded, the lawyer inherited a land dispute lawsuit his father had litigated for years. That was significant. His father died in the early 1950s.
His warning: people will fight over land until they run out of money, forget what they are fighting over, or finally get worn out, even if it takes decades. Eventually, that’s what happened in his case.
Still, no one got shot. Neither side lost its land. And, most likely, the subsequent generations forgave one another and lived as neighbors.
Legal actions can be expensive, stressful, and demoralizing. At the same time, the courts serve the goal of resolving disputes and holding citizens accountable. We need them open, even during a local and national health crisis.
The Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court issued new orders to reopen the courts after weeks of hearing only time-sensitive, critical matters. An explanation of the process follows.
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