Turf battle lands lawn service, client in court

2-year-old dispute has grown into civil suit with uncivil overtones

July 12, 2000|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

In the end, James Leard's lawn may end up costing a whole lot of green.

In a civil case pending in Howard County District Court, the Glenwood resident is appealing a $1,040 judgment against him that was awarded this year to Marathon Mowing.

What started as a simple contract between Leard and Ken Miller, owner of the Glenelg-based landscaping company, has turned into a battle of wills, with accusations of shoddy work and threatened violence being flung back and forth.

"It's really kind of a drag for everyone involved," Leard said. "It's unfortunate that it had to come to this."

The case has more twists than an ivy plant.

The roots of the dispute go back two years, when Leard and his wife, Andrea, were looking for someone to remove leaves and cut down some trees on a property they were renting on Shadow Roll Court while looking for a home to buy. After spotting Miller's ad in a local paper, the couple hired his company to do the work, Leard said.

"We like to deal with local businesses," Leard said. "He came out and gave us an estimate."

What followed is up to the court to decide.

Leard says Miller and his workers did not complete the work, showing up only sporadically, putting in short workdays and then leaving behind a mess.

Leard kept a log with entries such as: "3 April 1998: MM starts work 9-10 AM, leaves around 2 PM. I do not hear from them until 4 April when I call" and "15th April 1998: MM does not start until after 5 p.m. I was home before MM arrived. They left around 7 PM."

Miller, who referred all calls to his lawyer, has maintained that he did do a significant amount of work. He said he logged 42 hours clearing the property at a cost of $25 an hour before Leard decided he no longer wanted Marathon Mowing to handle his yard work.

Christopher S. Young, Miller's lawyer, said his client feels like he has "been taken advantage of by a very aggressive personality."

"After the fact, we now have a situation where services were rendered and the customer doesn't want to pay for it," said Young. He added that Miller had to pay laborers for their time and has still not recouped that money because Leard has not paid his bill.

Miller originally sued Leard in 1998 for failure to complete the contract. That case was dismissed that year after Miller failed to show up for the court date.

But Miller refiled this year and was awarded $1,040.

Shortly before that judgment, Miller testified in another civil case involving Leard and the landlord of the Shadow Roll Court property.

In a later criminal complaint,Miller said that during a conversation with Leard in the District Court lobby, Leard began "raising his voice and sounding very threatening to me. ... At this time I started to fear for my life."

Leard denies making threats and questions Miller's motives for having him charged with second-degree assault - a charge that prosecutors declined to pursue.

"He didn't call anyone and the guards were right there," Leard said. "I know that if my life was being threatened, as he alleges, I would have taken different measures"

Leard, who said he offered Miller $1,000 to settle the dispute before it went to court, said it took three weeks for Miller to do a job that was supposed to be completed in three days.

"I really don't believe that he deserves $1,000," Leard said. "He tried to tell us that he was a new business starting out and we tried to work with him, but the bottom line is that he didn't fulfill the contract."

Young, Miller's attorney, said the dispute is more about the principle than the dollars.

"It's a small sum of money in the grand scheme of things," Young said. "You need to look at it from the perspective that money is not the motivator on either side. Each side wants to have their day in court."

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