Unable to find a satisfactory job and stuck in a job I hated I finally opened up my own Land Surveying Firm in mid 1992. I was 32 at the time and thought that I knew everything about Land Surveying because of my previous experiences. It goes to show you that ignorance is most often a result of arrogance.
As I look back now I realize that I had no idea at that time what I was doing and I am really uncertain at this point how I managed to survive in the beginning. After a couple of bumpy years however the business began to pick up dramatically. The quality of my product began to improve enough that my practice became sustainable. I quickly gained a reputation as being honest and thoughtful. I was thorough and took time forming an opinion that I could support with the facts. As a result of this some of my clients were on the rich and famous side of things which was a source of great pride for me.
One day after a few years in my own business I got a call from an extremely wealthy client who owned a billboard advertising company. He said he needed a survey performed on a property about an hour from the center of the town I was working in. There was nothing unusual about this and he had ordered many other surveys from me in the past. I dispatched a field crew and later even visited the site myself to make sure of all of the evidence. Once again there was nothing unusual about this. The property was in fact vacant save an old billboard at the very edge of the subject tract boundary. The only noteworthy thing about the survey was that that the house on the adjoining property and the billboard were less than 2 feet apart with the boundary of the properties running between them. Somebody had cut notches in the eave of the roof of the house that corresponded with the location creosote wood posts on the billboard even though the edge of the roof of the building and the sign posts were both wholly within their own property and did not touch. As far as I could tell the sign was perpendicular with the earth contrary to what the notches in the house roof indicated. I thought maybe somebody was being careful worrying that the sign may start leaning into the house because violent storms were common in this area. The sign looked like it had been there for a thousand years and I could see nothing indicating that it had anything done to it in years.
I delivered the survey to my client, collected the money and never thought anything about it until I received a phone call from the owner of the billboard advertising company some three weeks later. He informed me that they were in a legal battle with the adjoining property owner with the house and the local City government. He said the adjoining property owner claimed the billboard was on his property and the City government was claiming he had violated a City ordinance for working on the sign. He wanted to hire me to be an expert witness for him and he wanted to see if I was free the next day for the beginning of the trial.
A wave of different emotions swept over me all at once as I listened to him on the phone. First off I was a little upset that he had not told me this was being litigated when I went out to survey it in the first place although I gave him the benefit of the doubt that this matter may have just arisen. The thought of being chosen as an expert witness in yet another legal contest caused my ego to inflate my brain with hot air so fast all the cells were forced out through my ears causing temporary hearing loss. I was angered that some other Land Surveyor would be suggesting my survey of the property was incorrect since I always went way overboard with a search for evidence. I could not fathom a scenario where new evidence the other Land Surveyor might have would be able to overcome the evidence I had found on or near this site locating the boundary of the property.
I agreed immediately to be available and asked to talk to his lawyer and see any evidence that the other Land Surveyor may have. My client faxed me copies of the material sent to him by his lawyer along with his lawyer’s phone number. I reviewed the material late into the evening to try and prepare for the trial the next day. A nagging question kept tugging at me which was why they had not contacted me sooner or why they had not told me about this litigation to begin with when I was hired to do the survey on it. These questions evaporated from my mind when I was reviewing the survey performed by the opposing Land Surveyor and realized that it was substandard and violated State Law. It contained the incorrect reference for the recording information on the face of the survey. It failed to show controlling monuments or much of anything. All it did show was the billboard over the boundary in question. I went to bed confident that I would be able to discredit the other Land Surveyor at the trial.
I woke up early the next morning and got to the trial early so I could get a word with my client’s lawyer. I tried calling my client’s lawyer but just got his voice mail. I got to the courthouse early but the lawyer, client and his witnesses did not show up until the last second.
I sat awkwardly on the defendant side of the courtroom alone while on the other side a small army of lawyers for the City and the adjoining property owner and their witnesses sat. I could not tell who the Land Surveyor was I was facing because there was nothing distinguishing him from everyone else on that side. I started sweating as people on the other side kept looking over at me all alone smiling as if to say “we are going to bury you”. I nervously fiddled with all of the files, drawings and other evidence I had brought with me and drew some comfort from the fact that apparently the other Land Surveyor had brought nothing with him because nobody on the opposing side had anything with them. This gave me confidence that I was going to get my point across no matter who the other Land Surveyor was. Just a moment before the trail started my client, his lawyer and his witnesses came pouring into the courtroom. My client had a small army to match the other side and this boosted my confidence even further. The client seemed defiant and his lawyer confident as I was hustled out of the courtroom to wait my chance to testify.
I identified the other Land Surveyor when he was called to testify. As he came walking out of the courtroom afterward he appeared to me to be old and disoriented which made me think once again that I was doing the right thing with my plan to expose his survey as substandard. I was jacked up when I was finally called and as I walked past my client’s lawyer to go to the stand I bent down and whispered into his ear asking him to quiz me about the other Land Surveyor’s survey. On the stand my client’s lawyer took my advice and I proceeded to crucify the other Land Surveyor for the various deficiencies in his survey. I began to list the violations of State Law which caused the opposing lawyers to object however I had a copy of the law sent to me by the Texas Board of Professional Land Surveying among the items I had brought. My client’s lawyer took that from my hand and introduced it into evidence and that is when the judge stopped the trial.
She called me back into her chambers and asked me if I was going to continue attacking the other Land Surveyor. I said I was and told her I would continue until I broke his arm off and totally discredit him if they continued to let me testify. She called the lawyers from the two sides into her chamber and asked me to sit in on the bench in a small hall on the side of the courtroom just outside the door of her chambers and wait for them.
As I sat on the bench I could barely hear the Judge telling my client’s lawyer and the opposing council through her chamber doors that she was going to have to stop the trial and render a judgment in order to save the opposing side embarrassment. I was filled with pride and the thrill of victory listening quietly in the small hallway when my somersaulting ego was interrupted by some snickering and laughing from some people just a few feet away.
The waiting area in front of the main courtroom doors was just around the corner from where I was sitting and apparently a couple of my client’s employees who had been waiting to testify were sitting on benches in front of the courtroom just out of my eyesight. They were talking about the trial but I was having difficulty hearing what they were saying even though they were laughing loudly because they were trying to not let anyone hear what they were saying. I edged a little closer and heard one of them say to the other “our boss is a genius”, the other said “Yea, he really pulled the wool over these suckers eyes.” The snickering rose as I edged even closer to the corner to hear them better. “That plan of his to go out in the middle of the night and straighten the sign and move it onto our property was too bold, I mean what if the tenant living in the house had heard something?” The other replied ”Yea, but they never woke up and nobody is the wiser, that is the quietest I have ever heard you work.” They once again broke out in loud laughter.
I realized that the other Land Surveyor’s survey was correct and that my client had been lying to me all along. I had destroyed another Land Surveyor’s reputation on technicalities when in fact it was I who had been wrong. At first I was horrified and embarrassed but then another emotion started crowding into my mind. A wave of anger began to rise through me and I almost got up to go around the corner and confront them but at that moment my client’s lawyer and the opposing lawyer came out of doors of the judge’s chambers into the hallway I was sitting in and my client’ lawyer leaned over as he was passing and patted me on the shoulder saying “it’s all over, we won.”
I walked out of the courthouse in kind of a fog trailing the entourage that was following my client. They were all congratulating him and slapping each other on the back. The group stopped at the street to wait for the crosswalk light and that was when I took the opportunity to push my way through the crowd to my client. “Don’t ever call me again” I told him. “You lied to me and you caused me to ruin the reputation of another Land Surveyor just for money, you are no client of mine” I said to him angrily.
He looked at me kind of bewildered and then looked at the bewildered faces of each of his employees and lawyer in the crowd surrounding us then looked back at me and broke out laughing hysterically. Everyone else began uproariously laughing as the light changed and they all filed past me as I stood with an expression of rage not moving. The whole group walked off across the street and down the sidewalk laughing and grinning continuing with their celebration, one of the people in the group turned back to look at me as they followed and shot me the bird with his middle finger.
I got several phone calls from them about work I had done previously and they also asked me to bid on some new projects. I always sent back a message saying I was not interested in providing a service and product to them. After a few months the phone calls ceased and I never heard from them again. As a few years of practice stretched into decades of practice my peers, clients and detractors have all said many things about me….but one thing they don’t say is that I lack integrity. This mind set of mine has limited my practice for many years but I will never be bitter about that. For me living a life of virtue was far better than living a life of deception no matter what. When it is all over I can always say, like Frank Sinatra said,….”I did it my way!”
This Content Originally Published by a land surveyor to Land Surveyors United Network