Burying your head in the sod

The internets are up in arms about a Florida man who has recently been sent to jail. On reddit the story even reached the front-page as: “Only in America? Man Jailed Without Bail For Being Too Poor to Resod Lawn”.

Generally the comments, whether on the original article, on reddit, on digg, or on various blogs that have also posted the story, appear to be completely idiotic. Almost everyone is up in arms that such a terrible thing could happen, with some even going as far as calling for the judge to be removed and the HOA president to be fired. If they’re lucky, that is. Some commentors seem to want either or both of them to be tarred and feathered instead.

Most seem to ignore the fact that the behaviour of dear Mr Prudente is much more imbicilic than any HOA rule. The facts are actually quite simple, if you can get past the over-sensational nature of most of the reporting. As part of the covenant for living where he does, Mr Prudente has a obligation to keep his lawn maintained in a certain manner. He entered into this agreement freely and has presumably complied with it for the last ten years, but has recently stopped doing so. He ignored a series of letters asking him to rectify this, so ended up being taken to court to enforce performance.

Rather than attending and pleading poverty, he chose to not even show up for the trial. In a civil matter the court process basically boils down to a simple formula: each side gets to make their case in turn, and the judge rules which is most persuasive. If you don’t bother to turn up, it’s taken as you not making any case at all, and the other side will pretty much always be more persuasive than you! So, unsurprisingly, he lost and was ordered to bring his garden into line within 30 days. A month later, having still not done so, he also had fees awarded against him, presumably after again not turning up to argue why they shouldn’t be.

In September, 3 months after his “Do this within 30 days” period had expired, having continued to completely ignore the order of the court, the judge found him in contempt. Judges generally don’t like being ignored. But the judge gave him a final chance, offering him another 30 days period to comply, and warning him of the consequences of continuing to just ignore it.

A month later, Mr Prudente discovered that judges aren’t joking when they tell you “Do this or go to jail.”

It’s really a simple system. When a court orders you to do something, you either comply or appeal. You don’t just stick your fingers in your ears and declare “Nah! Nah! I can’t hear you!”

Is the rule that requires homeowners to keep their grass maintained in a certain manner a stupid one? Possibly. I doubt I’d want to buy a house somewhere that has that sorts of requirement. But mostly that’s irrelevant. The “victim” here agreed to it. Should he go to jail for breaking it? Absolutely not. But he hasn’t. He’s gone to jail for repeatingly ignoring a court order. And should people go to jail for that? Absolutely.

I could blog every day about the insane laws that are being passed with alarming frequency in the US and UK, and rant about where the legal systems are running wild. But this isn’t one of those stories. It isn’t even close to one. This is simply: “Man sent to jail for continuing to refuse to do what a judge tells him.”

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