August 18, 2014

"A feisty 82-year-old Uptown woman was hauled to court for spray-painting a fence built by her next-door neighbor — a high-ranking federal prosecutor..."

"... as part of a raging dispute over the property line between their brownstones."
Great-granny Sylvia Kordower-Zetlin has been warring with Arlo Devlin-Brown, the newly appointed chief of the Public Corruption Unit in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office — but prosecutors say she crossed the line when she tagged the backyard fence that separates the properties on W. 113th St.
1. Who's right about the property line? I couldn't figure it out. Which side of the fence did she spray paint? Her side? I couldn't figure that out.

2. "Public Corruption Unit"? Where have I heard that phrase before?

3. Must every old person who stands up for herself be called "feisty"? It's as if old people are all Grampa Simpson — bursting with expressive emotion but without reliable alignment to the actual real-world facts. Is this old lady right that the fence is on her land or not?

4. If you have a confused octogenarian neighbor who's worked up about something you've done, something that you have a right to do, like put up a fence, how should you handle that? Would your answer be any different if you were "a high-ranking federal prosecutor"? (The old woman says: "I’m a widow and he works for the (government)... He should be protecting me, not getting me arrested." (What did the woman say that got translated into "government"?).)

5. Why does The Daily News say the woman has been "battling Arlo Devlin-Brown" and "warring with Arlo Devlin-Brown" when it has quotes not from Devlin-Brown but from his wife Daniela Kempf: "We have a beautiful home and we would enjoy it a lot more if she weren’t making our lives hell... She takes pictures of us whenever we come outside.... She gets on a ladder (and) yells, 'Bastards! Bastards!'" Something more newsworthy about an old widow fighting a federal prosecutor? Two women fighting seems trivial or ridiculous — a "catfight"?

6. The prosecutor's wife is a professor at Barnard. She teaches Public Speaking and Rhetorical Choices and has written a book called "Argument & Audience: Presenting Debates in Public Settings." I wonder what she thinks of the presentation of the debate about the fence: the forefronting of her husband's role, the way her own remarks look in print (especially the irrelevant "beautiful home"), the ability of the old lady to portray herself as a lovable underdog (posing for a photographs, including one displaying the spray can), the commenters at the news site, the lawprof blogging....

48 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Passive-Agressive Neighborhood Avenger says:

In my vast experience of neighborhood tribulations I have learned to always back the feisty old lady. Even if she is wrong she is wrong for the right reasons: neighborhood vigilance. Without neighborhood vigilance the result is chaos: the overturned lemonade stands of young girls, cars parked on the lawn, low-pants-wearing youth walking in the middle of the street. I am the Neighborhood Avenger!

surfed said...

One of the advantages of being an oldy is that you can say just what's on your mind and, if you have the inclination, act on it. Good on Granny taking on the powers that be - whether right or wrong. As a child of the 60's I dearly love seeing someone stick their finger in the eyes of the "Man". Just for spectacle of it if nothing else.

EDH said...

Here's my thought about Public Corruption Units.

Don't they, as part of plea agreements, routinely include securing a promise by the target of the probe to resign his or her public post in order to avoid prosecution?

In other words, prosecutors will use their office to prosecute if the target will not resign a public office as part of a plea deal.

How is this different than the "Coercion of a Public Official" alleged against Perry?

Anonymous said...

The Passive-Agressive Neighborhood Avenger says:

My viewpoint on this matter stands even if the feisty old woman is black or, sometimes, Chinese. English is required, however, otherwise the feistiness is too close to gibberish, which is a short walk to the Old Folks' Home. I am the Neighborhood Avenger!

Anonymous said...

The Passive-Agressive Neighborhood Avenger says:

Feisty Old Women know all of the Neighborhood's secrets: who is having an affair, which underaged neighborhood schoolgirl is pregnant, where the Hispanics used to live before the incident. I am the Neighborhood Avenger!

chuck said...

Argument & Audience

Ohh, so cute, so... academic. Not at bad price though, less than $.03 per page for the kindle edition.

David said...

It's a big problem when it happens to you.

My daughter in San Francisco bought a house next to a crazy old woman who made her life hell. The woman would yell and scream profanities at her, vandalize her car, scare her children, pound on the common wall between the houses and do other stuff too disgusting to mention here. There was really no fixing it. The police were not interested in intervening.

Eventually my daughter and her husband decided that the only alternative was to move. Their lawyer and real estate broker advised them that they had an obligation to disclose the situation to a potential buyer. That cost them a hunk of cash, but it was worth it to get out of there.

Sometimes a crazy old lady is just a crazy old lady.

Plus I see no suggestion that the prosecutor used his influence improperly. I believe there are a lot of out of control prosecutors but how about some evidence?

Anonymous said...

The Passive-Agressive Neighborhood Avenger says:

Feisty Old Women have been known to bake cookies for when the Law Officials arrive. It is easier for your side to be understood by the Police while sharing coffee and fresh home-baked cookies. And the knitted pink shawl around the shoulders is always a good touch. I am the Neighborhood Avenger!

William said...

Old women get to be feisty. Old men are crusty. Sexism at its worst.

Anonymous said...

The Passive-Agressive Neighborhood Avenger says:

As many a high-school-aged lawn boy has learned, Feisty Old Women still have sexual wants and desires. This is especially true of Feisty Old Dutch Women. I do not know why this is: it is only an observation. I am the Neighborhood Avenger!

Kelly said...

We had a crazy old lady neighbor that we didn't know existed until she reported us to the IG (Investigating General). She claimed that we were knocking on her door and running away before we left for PT in the morning.

Turns out her dead husband had been a high ranking officer and I guess that's how she knew to call the IG. They weren't unfamiliar with her since she harassed other young military neighbors.

I must confess, after that my husband did everything in his power to antagonize her though we never did knock on her door and run away.

Skipper said...

Has a lawyer and college prof never heard of a land survey? Invest a few hundred dollars and settle the damn property line.

Ipso Fatso said...

The old lady claims the fence is 2 feet onto her property and she has two separate surveys to prove it. If true, she would seem to have a legitimate gripe and I am sure a legal remedy would be in her favor. This old lady doesn't sound crazy to me. It sounds like the issue may be with the lawyer-neighbor.

Kirk said...

Sounds like we need a national conversation about fences.

MadisonMan said...

Well, grandma seems ornery and persnickety at best. A hard person to live next to. The bottom-line question is: Is the fence on her property, or not?

A question the newspaper article does not answer.

Grandma is certainly winning the PR war though.

The Godfather said...

Ms. Kordower-Zetlin says she has two surveys that show the fence is on her property. If so, Devlin-Brown and his professor wife Ms. Kemp-Devlin-Brown should move the fence onto their property. Their title insurance company might be on the hook to pay for that. If the Devlin-Brown's think the Kordower-Zetlin surveys are wrong, they can get their own survey and if necessary file the appropriate civil action (quiet title perhaps) against Ms. Kordower-Zetlin. BTW, is there some new law in New York requiring hyphenated names? It used to be that Goldberg or Chen or Rodriguez was good enough.

madAsHell said...

Last year, she also sued the city for not maintaining the vacant lot next door, causing “water, debris and tree roots to enter” her lot, she claimed.

I'm voting nuts!!

traditionalguy said...

Boundary of land takes on a reptilian brain refusal to compromise in property owners of all ages. Anger levels exceed adultery cases.

Civil process to resolve this is available in the oldest Writ in English CommonLaw called Trespass.

They are bothtoo cheap to pay lawyers.

Anonymous said...

The Passive-Agressive Neighborhood Avenger says:

Feisty Old Dutch Women have been known to walk around their homes in summer naked with the windows open; this I let pass. Not just because they are Dutch: there was a Feisty Old Italian Woman down the block that watered her tomatoes in her panties and bra, and I let that pass, too. Sometimes a neighborhood needs character. Feisty Old Hispanic Women, however: that is a different story. I am the Neighborhood Avenger!

Moose said...

Given its the New York Daily News I'd think "battling" and "feisty widower" are in their stylebook.

m stone said...

I agree with Neighborhood Avenger as to the old lady's important role in vigilance. Make her happy.

Count the times in TV police dramas when an old lady becomes the key to the crime puzzle. Being nosy pays.

Then again, dealing with feisty old neighbors is generally a losing battle. Anger, determination, and unreasonableness often accompany this group.

dbp said...

My first take on this story is that the old lady painted her side of the fence, which if it is not hers would be technically wrong, but who cares? She would be the only one to see it.

Later in the story was this:

"“It’s an ongoing dispute,” Assistant District Attorney Justin Chung said at the criminal court arraignment Wednesday. “The defendant was going onto what the complainant believes to be his property and refuses to stop coming over.
“That’s why the fence was put up in the first place,” Chung added."

Which would imply that she went into the neighbor's yard and spray-painted their side of the fence. If you put up a fence to keep the old lady away, why wouldn't you put a latch on it that only works from your side? If good fences make good neighbors, it would seem a minor piece of hardware could have solved the whole problem.

traditionalguy said...

PR War could be flipped if the owner of the beautiful home were suffering from a disability. We are all suckers for aiding the most helpless appearing whiner.

Anonymous said...

The Passive-Agressive Neighborhood Avenger says:

Feisty Old Hispanic Women say things like "my grandson would never have stolen the laptop out of your car" and "he is a good boy." Sorry, Feisty Old Hispanic Women: I know better. I am the Neighborhood Avenger!

Hagar said...

The article is badly written by a journalism major (there are only 5 ways to write a story), but it does say they sued her for stepping on to their property to do the spray-painting, so it was their side she painted her address on.

Both parties should have a "Certificate of Survey" with their mortgages, which should be good enough to decide who is right, since the lady claims they are a good 2 ft. in on her property. And she is right to protest if that is the case. After 10 years the P/L will be where the fence is, unless her protest is on record. 2 ft. in that neighborhood is a lot of money.

Anonymous said...

The Passive-Agressive Neighborhood Avenger says:

Feisty Old Dutch and Italian Women remember the Old Days when the Neighborhood was a place of respect and pride. These Old Days occurred before the Hispanics moved in. Maybe just a coincidence. I am the Neighborhood Avenger!

Curious George said...

Dudes with hyphenated last names are more often than not douchebags, and marry hags.

Anonymous said...

The Passive-Agressive Neighborhood Avenger says:

If there is something that Feisty Old Black Women hate it must be when rap is played loud too late in the evening. In Spanish. Hip Hop is black culture, even in this neighborhood. So far no one has popped a cap in someone else's ass: Thank Goodness. I am the Neighborhood Avenger!

YoungHegelian said...

Wait! Are you telling me that good fences don't make good neighbors?

I always thought that Bobby Frost was a bit of a putz, and now I'm sure of it!

Rob said...

Feisty Law Professor Objects to "Feisty." Ann will always be feist in war, feist in peace and feist in the hearts of her countrymen.

Saint Croix said...

It's Kordower-Zetlin v. Devlin-Brown. And Devlin-Brown is married to a Kempf who is still a Kempf. So I guess the two kids, 7 and 5, are the Devlin-Brown-Kempfs?

“She gets on a ladder (and) yells, ‘Bastards! Bastards!’ ”

They're not bastards, you crazy old lady, they're hyphenated-hyphenated-hyphenated-Americans.

Hagar said...

"Certificate of Survey" and a Land Survey are two quite different things, though both are done by Professional Surveyors.
A "Certificate of Survey" is just done with a cloth tape and provides measurements of the property and structures thereon to give the lender - and the county assessor - reasonable confidence that the property is as described in the mortgage.
A Land Survey involves a courthouse search for the old deeds, etc., and describes the exact boundaries of the property tied to official monuments. This can be a relatively simple proposition or a very expensive nightmare in an old and thoroughly screwed up area like New York.

SteveR said...

I imagine they are used to pulling a DYKWIA (Do you know who I am) on the little people.

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Feisty is alright. But getting called "spry" for the first time ... now that's annoying.

Al from Chgo said...

just another hypocrite millionaire named "Arlo"...

southcentralpa said...

I would like to believe the word (if it was in fact a word and not something like "the prosecutor's office") that got translated into "the government" was "the man"...

JDH said...

Aside from a proper survey being done, of course, I believe the first photo in the article seems to contradict her claims.

First, if you look at the google satellite view of the property (yes, I have too much time on my hands today), you will notice that the old lady’s backyard was grass just a couple of years ago, indicating that the octagonal cement block patio that is show in several photos was built within the past year or so. One of the photos shows the relative newness of her patio compared to the neighbors’ brick patio.

But now look at the first photo in the article that shows her standing in the back corner of her patio. The edge of the patio is lined with what appears to be gray or slate colored rectangular blocks (brick-sized) along the two foot deep green area she has next to the new fence. Notice that the slate blocks turn a corner toward the fence at the end of the green area and then, most importantly, turn back toward the rear of the property. The blocks run along the new fence before turning the corner and continuing along the chain link fence at what appears to be the back of her property. So, the obvious question is why she would have had the patio recently designed and installed that way if she believed that her property was two feet further over?

Finally -- although generally I don’t sympathize with high level federal prosecutors -- it is hard to image that he and his wife (unhyphenated though she may be), would, in Manhattan, knowingly build a fence two feet on to their neighbors property. Or that they wouldn’t have immediately had a proper survey done to check on that property line.

mgarbowski said...

I'm mostly left wondering how a government lawyer and university professor can afford what is undoubtedly a multi-million dollar home. The old/crusty/feisty/crazy old woman probably bought hers for $47 decades ago. Maybe the Public Corruption Unit could look into that. DeNiro's character Jimmy Conway in Goodfellas was a sociopath, but at least he had the sense to make sure his crew kept their public expenditures in line with their reported income.

RazorSharpSundries said...

I say she's a feisty old Jewish woman. Feisty old Dutch woman? C'mon, let's call a spade a spade here. Btw, I love the Jews, if it matters to anyone, just pointing out this crazed old bat is almost certainly Jewish.

tim maguire said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tim maguire said...

I imagine the judge will sort out the question of whose land the fence is on. If on the old lady's than he will have to pay to tear it down, if on the prosecutor's, then she will have to pay to have it cleaned off.

As for why focus on the feisty old lady and the powerful prosecutor, it will sell more papers that way. The Daily News is a tabloid.

Leora said...

When I was growing up our elderly next door neighbor became wrongly convinced our driveway encroached on her property. She put out heavy planters that blocked the way to our garage. My parents went out very late at night and moved them over enough so that we could drive in without hitting them. That seemed to take care of it though she did stop offering my brother and me lemonade and cookies.

Michael said...

If the fence is on her property she should tear it down. Easy.

pst314 said...

"Which side of the fence did she spray paint?"

Side comment: Such fences are often built completely within one property or the other.

RonF said...

What did the woman say that got translated into "government"?

Assholes. Bastards. F**kheads. Motherf***ers. Cocks**kers. Bloodsuckers. There's hundreds of synonyms for "government".

traditionalguy said...

Zoysia grass spreads each year. That is why you can sprig it in and wait a few years as it grows together to save money.

But we had a nice neighbor's new husband go protective when he noticed after 10 years that our zoysia was spreading across the old line, and whats more we were cutting when we cut ours since it takes a reel type mower which she did not have. He announced that he had caught us making our lot look wider and hers narrower...by 18 inches.

So we quit cutting it, and he killed our trespass grass with Roundup but never planted new grass leaving a dirt strip. He taught us... how dumb he was.

Hagar said...

@JDH,
I think you are wrong. Taking your suggestion of GoogleEarth, it is the neighbors' yard that was grass in 2011. The property lines presumably should go straight back at the same width as the houses, the same way everybody elses' do, unless the neighbors purchased a sliver of the old lady's property, which does not appear to be the case, ssince there then would be no argument.
Notice however, that the fence makes a slant in on the lady's property before it straightens out and goes to the back of the lot. From the aerial view, it looks like the neighbors' flowerbed and the fence are both on the old lady's property.

Hagar said...

Also note that on the 2011 aerial, there is a dark line where the propertyline presumably goes, or went, and there is a difference in the vegetation in the neighbor yard proper and the 2 ft. strip along the fence.