Tuesday, January 25, 2022 Jan 25, 2022
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METROPOLIS GOOD FENCES MAKE BAD LAWSUITS

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It’s the little things that can drive you over the edge. Just ask Jim Currey. Just ask Hawkins and Leslie Golden. They used to be neighbors-quiet, civilized, North Dallas neighbors, content to stay on their respective sides of the fence.

It was a simple chain-link fence-it leaned to one side, covered in a tangle of overgrown honeysuckle and poison ivy. It had been there long before the neighbors moved into their homes on Surrey Circle, a winding, thickly wooded street just south and east of Northwest Highway and Inwood Road. And while no one ever paid much attention to it, the fence became the center of attention in late 1986 when the Goldens announced their plans to build a new driveway.

According to their calculations, they informed Currey, their property line was actually several feet on the other side of the fence, in Currey’s yard. No, Currey responded, the fence had long marked the property line, and that’s how it would stay.

A debate ensued. Then a stalemate. That is, until April 30, 1988, when Jim Currey went away on a weekend trip to Austin. While he was gone, Hawkins and Leslie Golden yanked up the old fence, honeysuckle and all, tossed it a couple of feet into Currey’s yard, and laid the groundwork for a colossal, six-inch-thick driveway, which they then poured on May 2.

Currey, 58, says his “yuppie” neighbors took him for an old fogey who could be run over. The Goldens say their “eccentric” neighbor never really made his mind up about their plans, and they couldn’t wait any longer.

Either way, North Dallas civility had just gone right out the window.



CURREY WAS NO OLD FOGEY. GROSSLY overweight, yes. Suffering from high blood pressure and various other ailments, yes. But there was nothing dull or foggy-minded about this single, Harvard-educated, oil, gas, and real estate investor who had given enough money to the Republican Party to be appointed to one of Governor Clements’s training councils and invited to President Bush’s inauguration.

The Goldens were no slouches either. The thirtysomething couple was sailing along on money Hawkins had earned in the once-lucrative oil. gas, and real estate business. The Dallas natives had bought the home on Surrey Circle shortly before they were married for $507,000, and by the time they finished gutting it, adding to it, and decorating it, their investment, they say, topped $1 million.

Currey was not impressed. When the Goldens tore up that rickety old fence, he sued them.

On December 30, 1988, a Dallas County jury ruled in Currey’s favor. The Goldens were ordered to respect the former property line, which meant tearing up at least eight inches of their new driveway. They also had to pay Currey’s $18,000 in legal fees.

But the Goidens refused to accept the judgment. They set about planning an appeal, but Currey apparently got tired of waiting. On the morning of May 24, Currey brought a team of surveyors and landscapers over to his house. The Goldens, who were home that morning, panicked. They called their lawyers. They called the police. They shouted at the workmen. They shouted at Currey. Finally, two hours into this, he decided to finesse the situation. As Leslie Golden stood in her new driveway, screaming at the workmen, Currey calmly picked up a deer rifle, stepped out on his back steps, peered through the gun’s scope, and squeezed the trigger. The Dallas County District Attorney’s office estimates the bullet missed Leslie Golden’s head by less than two feet. Leslie says it came within inches. Currey and his lawyers say it wasn’t even close-it was just a little warning shot, meant to send the pesky woman back into her house.

Which it did. Mrs. Golden, eight months pregnant with her second child, ran for her back door, but the bullet beat her to it, blasting through one of six glass panes. It flew across a back hall, ripped through the frame of another door, sailed into a neighbor’s yard, and landed in a low-lying air-conditioning unit, where it lodged in a coil.

Hawkins promptly moved his family out of the house. He then parked himself in the District Attorney’s office, where he demanded justice. On June 19, 1989. James Currey was indicted for attempted murder

Assistant District Attorney John Nelms was immediately taken with the Goldens’ story. He felt they had been wronged, and a little digging revealed that Currey had leveled guns at others who had messed with his property. He had blown out the windows of a DP&L employee’s truck in 1983. He had aimed a loaded shotgun at a locksmith whose handiwork he didn’t like in 1987. He had been charged in the locksmith incident, but the case had been dropped on a technicality. Nelms promptly resurrected the matter and added it to his case.

Nelms felt sure he could get convictions. But he felt equally sure that due to Currey”s age, health, and list of impressive character witnesses, Currey would get probation, not the 20-year maximum prison sentence he was facing. So Nelms recommended a plea bargain: Currey would plead “no contest.” avoiding an admission of guilt; he would get ten years’ probation and see a probation officer and psychologist of his choosing monthly; he would own no firearms while on probation; he would not harass Leslie Golden; he would agree to the Goldens’ interpretation of the property line, meaning he would drop the civil judgment against them; he would agree to move out of his house, never to return, upon notification that the Goldens were moving back into theirs; and he would sell his house before the end of his probation.

All sides, including Nelms, agreed the terms were unusual. Probation conditions are pretty standard-they do not include ordering people out of their homes or settling boundary disputes. But Nelms, who still believes his idea was a “stroke of genius” because it succeeded both in punishing Currey and preventing future violence between neighbors, was confident that as long as Currey agreed, he could be held to the arrangement. “And Currey was willing to agree to just about anything,” Nelms recalls. “The thought of prison scared him to death.”

But an amicable plea bargain was not in the cards. The Goldens were not going to be easily satisfied-in their opinion, they had been severely victimized, and they wanted not only justice, but a pound of flesh and a pint of blood. They wanted a conviction, or at least a plea of guilty; they wanted a court-appointed psychologist for Currey; they wanted Currey ordered to leave Hawkins alone, not just Leslie; they wanted Currey to pay his own $18,000 in civil legal fees.

As the weeks and months dragged on, with all kinds of civil and criminal lawyers faxing and calling and visiting each other about the terms of the plea bargain agreement, John Nelms got more and more unhappy-he had agreed to let everyone get their two cents in, but the Goldens, without consulting him. had slapped Currey with a huge civil suit for their pain and suffering, and they had made that a part of the plea bargain negotiations. Nelms believed the civil suit poisoned his criminal case. “If they got up on a witness stand,” Nelms says, “I knew a jury would think they were just in this for the money. And quite frankly, I was starting to believe that too.”

District Attorney John Vance, Nelms’s boss, agreed. In early January, when the Goldens had upped their civil demand from $1.25 million to $3.6 million and insisted for the umpteenth time that their lawyers be allowed to tinker with the language in the plea bargain, Vance and Nelms said “enough is enough.” On January 19, Nelms, without tipping off the Goldens, presented his original plea bargain agreement to a magistrate, who immediately approved it. By the time the Goldens found out about it, it was days late and $3.6 million short.

Today, the Goldens say they have been victimized twice: once by Currey and once by the DA’s office. “If we can’t get justice-and we had education and lawyers and money, and we did everything right-how can the little guy out there get it?” Hawkins asks, his face knitted up in frustration, perhaps in dress rehearsal for his mental anguish suit, which is still pending in the courts.

Currey, meanwhile, sits in his peeling home, conferring with his legions of lawyers, outraged that the DA’s office could mess with his homestead, convinced he had a right to fire off a shot in a pregnant woman’s direction to protect his property, wondering if one of these days he’ll receive notice from the Goldens that they are returning to their home, which they are currently leasing out at a $6,000-a-month loss.

As it turns out, Currey need have no fear. For all Nelms’s confidence, State District Judge Frances Maloney, whose court handled the plea, says she has absolutely no authority to kick a man out of his home. Nelms will have to sue Currey in civil court, it appears, if he wants to enforce his beloved plea bargain. And though that day may never , come, one thing is for sure. One more lawsuit is just one too many in this North Dallas deal.