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I have discovered that there is no shortage of interesting, sometimes humorous and occasionally outright quirky legal disputes that have a golf connection. Please enjoy

I also invite you to join the Golf Dispute Resolution Linked In group, which has more than 2000 members.

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Please don’t hesitate to share ideas for either the blog or the Linked In group.

By way of background, I am an attorney who serves as general counsel to a financial services company.  I also frequently serve as a mediator and arbitrator. And, of course,  I enjoy golf, most often at the Yale Golf Course. You can learn more about my experience here.

Now, for the required disclaimer, so I can remain in the good graces of the legal ethics powers-that-be:  This website, which may constitute Attorney Advertising in some jurisdictions, is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

Best,

Rob Harris
rharris@golfdisputeresolution.com
914-482-2448

 

 

By: Rob Harris

We all knew it wouldn’t take long. With the snowballing response to Donald Trump’s derogatory comments about Mexicans, someone was bound to ask him how this relates to his stature in the golf community.

And…it was equally predictable that Mr. Trump would respond in, well, Trumpian fashion.

Last night, when Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte asked, Trump responded as follows:

“I’ve had tremendous support from the golf world, because they all know I’m right. I’ve been great to golf. I’ve been investing while everybody else was fleeing.”

Having inserted a (hopefully spikeless) golf shoe into his mouth, the golf establishment felt compelled to respond. As reported by Golf Channel, the USGA, the PGA Tour, the PGA of America and the LPGA issued a joint statement:

“In response to Mr. Trump’s comments about the golf industry ‘knowing he is right’ in regards to his recent statements about Mexican immigrants, we feel compelled to clarify that those remarks do not reflect the views of our organizations…

“While the LPGA, PGA of America, PGA Tour and USGA do not usually comment on Presidential politics, Mr. Trump’s comments are inconsistent with our strong commitment to an inclusive and welcoming environment in the game of golf.”

So it begins.

 

By: Rob Harris

Mamaroneck, New York’s Hampshire Country Club includes on its website a page, “invit[ing] you to take in the pleasures and privileges of membership at Hampshire Country Club,” and informing those who seek “more information about Membership or to schedule a tour, [to] please stop by the club or contact us at 914.698.4610 or info@hampshireclub.com.”

The website soon may be in need of update, as Hampshire has taken steps to turn the golf club into a residential development consisting of 44 single family homes and 61 townhouses. This proposal is the latest permutation, as last year the club sought permission to build condominiums while preserving the golf club.

After the current owners purchased the club in 2010, a neighborhood group–Mamaroneck Coastal Environment Coalition–was formed to protect residents’ interests. Litigation battles have followed, with the club recently defeating efforts by the Coalition to stop the hosting of charitable outings and other nonmember events.

 

By: Rob Harris

In March, developer Steven Bradford purchased Texas’ Great Southwest Golf Course. Weeks later, he closed the course, announcing plans to turn it into an industrial park. The city of Grand Prairie denied the requisite permits, claiming that nearby residents would suffer from the loss of green space. The city supported its refusal by citing a state statute that imposed restrictions on developing subdivision golf courses.

Although the course was surrounded by townhouses, the homes were constructed long after the course was in place on land that carried with it an industrial zoning classification.

Developer Bradford brought suit, claiming that Great Southwest Golf Course did not qualify as a subdivision golf course entitled to protection under the statute. The court agreed, determining the developer is entitled to proceed.

By: Rob Harris

By now, I suppose most people know the context:

1. Donald Trump, in announcing for President, offers a few choice words about the Mexican people: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

2. Univision, Mexico’s largest Spanish-language TV network, responds by announcing that it will not broadcast the Miss Universe Pageant that is co-owned by Trump.

So, what does Donald to? In addition to an unsurprising threat to sue Univision, Mr. Trump hits the company where it really hurts. Here’s the essence of his letter to Univision’s CEO and President, Randy Falco:

“Please be advised that under no circumstances is any officer or representative of Univision allowed to use Trump National Doral, Miami–its golf courses or any of its facilities. Also, please immediately stop work and close the gate which is being constructed between our respective properties. If this is not done within one week, we will close it.”

 

 

By: Rob Harris

For obvious reasons, judges have to ensure that their impartiality cannot be questioned. It is not enough to avoid actual conflicts; even the appearance of bias can destroy faith in the fairness of the judicial system.

Imagine how Craig Puchalsky must have felt when he learned that the judge who had recently presided over his divorce case announced–after ruling against Craig–that “a friend with whom he used to play golf was dating [Craig's ex-wife] Dawn.” The judge also advised “that, approximately a year before, they had played golf with Dawn’s father at the country club to which they, but not the judge, belonged.”

According to the judge “he had been unaware of those facts at the time of trial and when he issued his opinion.”

Craig requested “that the judge authorize a subpoena for the golf club’s records concerning his playing golf with the individuals associated with Dawn,” and the judge denied the request to subpoena the country club’s records.

The judge also refused to disqualify himself from presiding over a motion for reconsideration that Craig had filed, explaining “that his concern was not that he would be prejudiced against Craig, but rather that he would be ‘overcompensating and be unfair to [Dawn].’”

After the judge entered a ruling denying Craig’s motion for reconsideration, Craig filed an appeal. The appellate court recently issued its decision.

According to the appellate court, the trial judge did not act improperly when he presided over the initial trial. As the appellate court explained, “at the time he tried the divorce case and made his decision, the judge was unaware of the operative facts, that a golfing friend with whom he had not had recent contact was dating Dawn and that he had played golf a year earlier with Dawn’s father. There was no reason for the judge to have recused himself based on facts of which he was unaware.”

Turning to the motion for reconsideration, however, the appellate court reached a different conclusion: “With respect to the motion for reconsideration, by which time the judge was aware of the operative facts, we are constrained to conclude that a litigant such as Craig could have a good faith concern.” You think?

Accordingly, the court determined it should vacate the trial judge’s denial of Craig’s motion for reconsideration.

Craig’s victory was short lived, however. The appellate court went on to consider and decide the motion for reconsideration itself. And, lo and behold, the appellate court decided that Craig’s motion was not meritorious.

By: Rob Harris

With politicians tripping over one another as they sprint to announce their opposition to the public display of the Confederate flag, it’s ironic–indeed, almost surreal–that on June 18, just hours before the South Carolina murders that caused this seismic shift in public opinion, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in a case that challenged Texas’ right to prohibit the display of the Confederate flag on license plates.

By a vote of 5-4, the Court narrowly held that Texas did not act unconstitutionally in denying the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ request for a specialty license plate design that featured the Confederate battle flag. The Court’s decision was based upon its conclusion that license plate messaging constitutes government speech which is subject to state regulation, as opposed to private speech which, as we all know, is protected by the First Amendment.

And what, pray tell, does this have to do with golf?

Well, for the four dissenting justices, the government / private speech distinction was hogwash. As the dissent argues:

“Here is a test. Suppose you sat by the side of a Texas highway and studied the license plates on the vehicles passing by. You would see, in addition to the standard Texas plates, an impressive array of specialty plates.(There are now more than 350 varieties.) You would likely observe plates that honor numerous colleges and universities.You might see plates bearing the name of a high school, a fraternity or sorority, the Masons, the Knights of Columbus, the Daughters of the American Revolution, a realty company, a favorite soft drink, a favorite burger restaurant, and a favorite NASCAR driver.

“As you sat there watching these plates speed by, would you really think that the sentiments reflected in these specialty plates are the views of the State of Texas and not those of the owners of the cars? If a car with a plate that says “Rather Be Golfing” passed by at 8:30 am on a Monday morning, would you think: “This is the official policy of the State—better to golf than to work?”

“The Court says that all of these messages are government speech. It is essential that government be able to express its own viewpoint, the Court reminds us, because otherwise, how would it promote its programs, like recycling and vaccinations? So when Texas issues a “Rather Be Golfing” plate, but not a “Rather Be Playing Tennis” or “Rather Be Bowling” plate, it is furthering a state policy to promote golf but not tennis or bowling. And when Texas allows motorists to obtain a Notre Dame license plate but not a University of Southern California plate, it is taking sides in that long-time rivalry.”

If, indeed, the State of Texas is taking sides, far better that it should side in favor of golf, rather than tennis or bowling.


 

Anthony Baxter, who produced an award winning documentary (“You’ve Been Trumped”) about the battle between Donald Trump and the local Scots resisting the construction of Trump’s Aberdeen course, is back with a sequel. “A Dangerous Game” presents Baxter’s views about the harm that golf courses pose to the environment.

Here’s an interview with Baxter in which he tees up the issues raised by the film.

By: Rob Harris

I just returned from a wonderful golf vacation in Northern Ireland. The courses were great, the weather cooperated and the Irish people are, well, the best.

The closest thing to an international incident occurred when my golf buddy goaded me into ignoring a dogleg on a short par four and taking dead aim at the flag, never mind the need to traverse inhabited, adjacent, off course property.

When by some miracle I succeeded, the neighbors determined to meet me at the boundary fence, either to express their anger that I would intrude over their land or to revel in my accomplishment. As you can see from the photo, we speak different languages, so I’m not sure which.

In catching up on golf legal news, I understand there is a more serious international incident brewing in Venezuela. Apparently, the Swiss ambassador’s residence is adjacent to the Caracas Country Club‘s third hole.

As do many golf course neighbors, the ambassador is none too pleased with errant shots that make their way into her yard. However, she has determined to play a card not available to the typical recipient of incoming Titleists. As a diplomat, the ambassador has invoked the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which states: “The private residence of a diplomatic agent shall enjoy the same inviolability and protection as the premises of the mission.”

Thus, the ambassador has posted a sign proclaiming that “launching balls into this residence is a danger to whoever is within Swiss territory and a violation of the Vienna Convention if a golf ball injures or kills anyone on Swiss soil.” Slicers beware.

By: Rob Harris

I’ve been in Northern Ireland for the past several days, gathering information on the resolution of golf disputes in this part of the world. I thought I’d share my findings to date:

1. Dispute: Which course is better, Royal County Down or Royal Portrush? Resolution: Both.

2. Dispute: Which is the best post round beverage, Guinness or Jameson’s? Resolution: Both.

3. Dispute: is it preferable to shoot 80 at Portrush or to play 36 holes on the course without losing a ball? Resolution: Both.

4. Dispute: Does the sea look better from the fairways of Ardglass or Ballycastle? Resolution: Both.

The investigation continues for another couple of days.

By: Rob Harris

Thanks very much to Colorado Attorney Joe Pickard for sharing an interesting court victory rendered a couple of years ago in a case in which he represented Denver’s Pinehurst Country Club.

Pinehurst found itself in the unusual position of defending itself in front of a jury. The charges? Making too much noise during early morning mowing.

An adjacent neighbor complained to the city. The city sent out an inspector who took noise measurements from the property line separating the complaining neighbor’s yard from the golf course. And, yes, the readings showed a decibel level of 62.5, exceeding the permissible 60.0 decibel limit.

Based on that evidence, the jury found Pinehurst guilty of violating the noise ordinance.

The club took an appeal, however, and was vindicated. The appellate court found that the trial judge erred when he permitted the jury to determine guilt based on the noise level at the property dividing line.  It seems that when the neighbor purchased his home, the legal documents included covenants that provided he would make no claim concerning “the operation or maintenance of the club during early morning or late evening hours, including early morning mowing…”

Thus, as Attorney Pickard explains, “since the adjacent landowner had a deed which restricted him from complaining about noise form early morning mowing, the proper place to measure would have been in front of his house, on the public street, and not on the property line between the house and the golf course.”

Since the trial court permitted the jury to consider noise measurements taken in the wrong place, and there was no evidence of the noise level from the public street, the guilty verdict was vacated. A victory for Pinehurst, for Attorney Pickard and for short grass.

 

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