They’d Rather Sue

For those following Ben Ramsey and Nisa Counter’s adventures in Massachusetts Land Court . . .

In our last episode, Judge Sands encouraged the parties to consider mediating their dispute. Mediation encourages opponents in a dispute to work together to come up with a solution that both sides can live with. It’s generally less expensive and less time-consuming than pursuing a case through the courts, and it’s less adversarial: the parties are encouraged to cooperate in finding an answer instead of each using the law to bludgeon the other into submission. In court, one side wins and the other loses. Mediation tries to find a middle way.

What’s not to like? Ben and Nisa have been totally for mediation, negotiation — any way to work it out outside the courts — since back before anyone on Martha’s Vineyard had heard of the case, since before any of us knew that SMF claimed to own a small parcel of Chilmark land that Ben and Nisa had bought (after exhaustive title searching, deed examining, and hunting for old landmarks) from Ben’s aunt Billie. Knowing that Nisa and Ben’s financial resources were very limited, SMF decided to sue in land court — a process that can drag on for years and cost tens of thousands of dollars.

That was this past July. Rather than get steamrollered by SMF’s legal clout, Ben and Nisa decided to start telling Vineyarders what was going on, using the time-honored poor folks’ newspaper, aka the grapevine. Facebook is a grapevine on steroids and speed; still, it was another month before I got wind of the story. (For the record: I didn’t know Ben or Nisa at all. I was dimly aware that Nisa ran a fitness business, but y’all know that fitness and I don’t exist in the same universe so we hadn’t met.) By mid-August, when the story first appeared in the island newspapers, I’d learned enough to realize how one-sided the coverage was, particularly that of the Martha’s Vineyard Times. (See “What’s Up with the Martha’s Vineyard Times?” for details.) Not only did the Times not print my letter, it banned me and Jackie Mendez-Diez, another vocal supporter of Ben and Nisa’s claim, from posting comments on their website.

“The truth will set you free,” so the saying goes, “but first it will piss you off.” It seems the Times is still at the pissed-off stage.

The Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation hasn’t got that far yet. They’ve just rejected the judge’s recommendation that the parties mediate their dispute. Bring on the bludgeons and the big-bucks lawyer.

I’m mystified. As I said: “What’s not to like?” Well, I can think of one downside to mediation: Mediation would reveal the facts of the case more promptly than an extended court case. Maybe SMF wants to draw the process out as long as possible — perhaps in the hope that Nisa and Ben won’t be able to raise the money to stay the course? (I would never, ever, ever suggest that lawyers stand to rack up more billable hours if their clients don’t mediate.) But why?

Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does the grapevine. We’ll do our theorizing based on what we know. Based on what we know, it looks like Sheriff’s Meadow has lost track of its mission and that it’s not interested in being a good neighbor.

Not to Ben and Nisa, at any rate. Maybe their other neighbors have more clout?

The once and future carpenter's tent

The earlier chapters:
“Land Grab”
“What’s Up with the M.V. Times?”
“So Long, Tent”
“Has SMF Lost the Plot?”
“Defense Fund Established for Ben & Nisa”
“Turning Point”
“How the Story Ended . . .”
“It Ain’t Over Yet”

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About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has two blogs going on WordPress. "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories" is about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard. "Write Through It" is about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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6 Responses to They’d Rather Sue

  1. Susanna…please let us know how to put pressure on SMF. There must be a way besides withholding donations. Is there a way we could get a list of their donors and let the money people know what is going on? I simply can’t believe the people in Chilmark are that afraid of Ben and Nisa building a home in their snooty enclave. The 60’s have returned and we’re mad as hell and we’re not taking it any more.

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    • Some people have called or written SMF director Adam Moore. That registers displeasure at least, but in nonprofits the big policy decisions usually aren’t made by the paid staff; they’re made by the board. Board members are listed on SMF’s website (www.sheriffsmeadow.org). If you have a personal connection with any of them, bring it up! According to the SMF website, donors are listed in their annual report, but I don’t have a copy and at this point I don’t think they’d send me one. 😉

      I know almost nothing about the upper echelons of Chilmark society, but there does seem to be a small, fairly cohesive group of wealthy summer people who don’t want people of modest means in their enclaves. Since this started, Ben and Nisa have been snubbed and “dropped” by clients and people they considered friends.

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      • Hal Davis says:

        Susanna:

        Re this: “According to the SMF website, donors are listed in their annual report, but I don’t have a copy and at this point I don’t think they’d send me one.”

        They are obligated to show it to you. In fact, if you show up on their doorstep, they have to present one to you, and you can read it right there on their premises.

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    • jon parkinson says:

      When I was a little boy, we grew up in a tent in the summer and did live-in caretaking for the winters. Until we could afford to put up the walls, and a roof. that was our house for many years, and life was good, but hard — my dad worked two jobs to keep us afloat. No one lived out there but us, and some hippys, in shacks they built from scraps of wood and tarps. No one cared, or bothered anyone. but then Carly Simon built a big giant house out in those woods & what do you think happened? The land value went up, up, up! and the taxes too! We had to sell, and move away from our island we loved! So when I see this stuff happen right under our noses — where is the outrage?!!!! Nisa & Ben are island kids too. Give them a chance to raise a famaly where they want too. Christ, it’s their land!!!!

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