Federal Judge Jack Weinstein took the unusual step of touring the property line the divides two families in a dispute over where the line ends and begins in Midwood, Brooklyn Tuesday
NY DALLY NEWS
A legendary Brooklyn federal judge shlepped out to a quiet block in Midwood yesterday - to assess a measly 3-foot-wide strip of land that has become a giant legal headache.
A battle between two homeowners over a piece of property on E. 29th St. has led to a $1 million lawsuit, and unless there's a settlement reached in the next two weeks, it will go to a jury.
"This neighborly dispute has been transmogrified into a federal case," said Judge Jack Weinstein, who has presided over major mob cases and some of the biggest mass torts in U.S. history.
Marsha Stickler, whose parents bought the house at 962 E. 29th St. in 1962, is suing Hanoch and Eris Halevy, who moved into the house at 966 E. 29th St. in 2006.
Stickler, who lives in New Jersey and rents out the Brooklyn home, is seeking $1 million in damages from the Halevys because they removed a chain-link fence, a tree and a large bush from the passageway between the homes.
"The [Halevys] were unwilling to discuss the issue and forced Ms. Stickler to file this action," said Evan Mandel, one of four lawyers handling the plaintiff's case.
Because Stickler lives out of state and the stakes are more than $50,000, the federal court has jurisdiction.
Stickler has accused the Halevys of intimidating witnesses - a landscaper was warned he would lose customers in the neighborhood if he cooperated with her lawyers. And Stickler's tenant allegedly was hauled into rabbinical court, "which rebuked him as a rabbi for presenting a biased picture of the situation."
City records suggest Halevy is the owner of the property, but Stickler could win under a legal principle called "adverse possession," which is similar to squatters' rights. Stickler's family used the strip for more than 45 years because it thought it was the family's property.
Halevy offered to buy the land, but his overture was rejected, according to court papers.
"I am exceedingly confident the jury will find in favor of the Halevys and allow them to keep the land that is rightfully theirs," said lawyer Jonathan Nelson.
If Stickler loses, she could be stuck with paying the Halevys "substantial" legal costs, Nelson added.
Neighbors can't figure out what the big deal is.
"The whole case seems to be so crazy to be based on a bush," said Chaya Winkler.
With Nicholas Rizzi
In federal Judge Jack Weinstein's storied career, he's decided cases on asbestos, tobacco, and breast implants -- yesterday he trekked to a Brooklyn back yard to rule on a case more befitting "The People's Court."
Taking slow, judicious steps with marshals, interns, lawyers, and litigants in tow, the 89-year-old justice paced up and down a disputed 3-foot-wide sliver of grass and cement between two Midwood homes.
The facts of the lawsuit -- a textbook property-line squabble between a longtime homeowner and the newcomers next door -- may have seemed beneath a jurist of his stature, but not to Weinstein.
"This is a neighborly dispute which has been transmogrified into a big federal case," Weinstein explained beforehand. "Thank you for bringing me an interesting case."
Marsha Stickler, whose family has lived on East 29th Street for more than four decades, contends that the side-yard sliver, which she's maintained all this years, is rightfully hers, despite what's in the deed, according to the lawsuit.
Hanoch and Eris Helavy, who paved over much of the grass and cut down a bush in 2007 when they purchased the property, disagree.
The case is federal, since the plaintiff's primary residence is now in New Jersey, and because more than $75,000 is at stake, the lawsuit states.
The judge arrived in a minivan with his entourage yesterday afternoon, wearing a charcoal gray suit and a large grin.
"I like to get a feel for a case and see what it's really about," Weinstein said, approaching the litigants.
"Do you mind if I take a look around?" he asked.
The lawyers and gawking neighbors were thoroughly amused by his deliberate, philosophical approach to examining the yard.
"This is the first time I have ever seen a sitting judge take a look at a property," Jonathan Nelson, attorney for the defendants, said. "I think, quite frankly, it intrigued him."
The plaintiff, who contends the two prior owners never had any issue with her family's use and care of the side yard, just wants the property "returned back the way it was," her son and lawyer, Ira Strickler said.
Since the family treated it as their property for more than a decade, it should remain theirs, he said.
"This is an adverse-possession case, and the deed will not matter."
The trial was scheduled to begin July 5, but has been postponed pending Weinstein's decision on the defense's request for dismissal.
"You can't adversely possess a property that someone lets you use," Nelson said. "And you don't expect your neighbor that you've been friendly with to turn around and take your property."
After completing his 20-minute examination, Weinstein said the visit helped his understanding of the facts.
"It's interesting," he said, before motioning his staff toward the van. "All right, marshals."