While working for Orange Legal in Tavares, Fla., Tiffany Treffeisen, RPR, and Lisa Shuman, RPR, shared reporting duties on an eminent domain case earlier this year. When they heard more about the proceedings, they learned that the parties agreed a view of the site – the house and road – would be beneficial to the jury in making its decision. The jury would then be able to see the boundary lines, home, and property lines that had been discussed the previous few days.
Treffeisen, who is also certified in Florida, has been reporting for 20 years in the Fifth Circuit and surrounding counties in Central Florida. Shuman has also been reporting for 20 years throughout Central Florida.
JCR | Did you know when you were assigned that something different was going to happen with this case?
Treffeisen | I was not aware when I accepted the assignment that it would include a site visit, but I learned about it on the first day of trial. Then we just had to wait and see whether it was going to be Lisa or I who was the lucky one to be the reporter, depending on which day they decided to make the trip.
Shuman | Tiffany and I split the trial, and we had heard that Thursday there would be a site visit. They wanted to move it to Friday, but it was supposed to rain, so she was the lucky one. The job I was on that day canceled, so I wanted to go along for the ride to see how it’s done for next time! And also see the road and the house!
JCR | What was the experience like? Did you have any challenges?
Shuman | It was an eminent domain trial for some property in Lake County that was taken by the Department of Transportation for the Wekiva Parkway. I had done a couple things in the case, but was very familiar with the location. I used to use the road every day and it’s being moved due to the Wekiva Protection Act. They wanted the judge and jury to see the land that was taken so they could get the market value for it.
Treffeisen | When I was talking with the attorneys about how the site view was going to take place, they informed me that we (judge, jury, attorneys, bailiff, clerk, and myself) would be taking a transit-type bus to the active construction site and that we would be getting off in several locations and that the surveyor would be testifying as to boundary locations. They advised that we would then be going to the property owners’ home and touring their house and the farm. They also assured me they would make sure I understood when to be on the record.
With the construction of the road already starting, it was a great opportunity for the jury to be able to see exactly where the road was being constructed on the property and how it was affecting the property owners.
The attorneys had also suggested I bring my own chair so I would have some place to sit while taking the testimony. So I loaded up a folding chair that morning and took it with me. I certainly got some strange looks and questions from the security station about why I needed to bring a chair into the courthouse with me.
Thankfully Lisa was there to assist me with the chair so I didn’t have to juggle my machine and the chair while getting on and off the bus; however, the judge often grabbed my chair and scolded the younger male attorneys for not being gentlemen and getting the chair for me. One of the younger attorneys took his cue and began to assist. The judge got a laugh out of “educating” young men on being proper gentlemen.
At each of the five stops, everyone exited the bus onto the road that was being constructed, which was currently lime rock, and gathered around the surveyor for him to show the jury where they were standing in relation to the maps that they had been shown all week. I think the biggest challenge of the day became the wind. It made it difficult to hear the soft-spoken surveyor while he was testifying as to the boundary lines at our stops. It was also super frustrating to have my hair blowing all over my face while trying to write. Fortunately, we were not outside taking testimony for very long, though. And when we arrived at the home and farm, the attorneys said there would be no testimony taken there.
JCR | How long were you out in the field?
Shuman | We were on site for about an hour. We stopped at five stops in various locations on the road, and then we viewed their actual house, stable, and land. There was 434 acres before the taking and 230 after, so it was to see the effect it had on their land and wildlife.
Treffeisen | We were gone for a total of around two hours – but, technically, outside and reporting, probably less than 20 minutes. The judge gave the jury a half hour to view the house and farm portion, and then we headed back to the courthouse to finish out the day with more witness testimony.
JCR | Anything else you can tell us about what happened?
Shuman | The trial finished the next day. The jury deliberated for 1.5 hours and came back with a $4.9 million verdict!
Treffeisen | It was a pretty laid-back field trip, and it was great to get out of the courtroom for a few hours. The attorneys and the judge were all super nice and were very accommodating to me; making sure that I had everything I needed. Really, the entire trial was like that for Lisa and me. They were a great group to work with.