A judge ordered a northern California couple to pay nearly $600,000 in damages for relocating a 180-year-old tree, killing it in the process.
Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Patrick Broderick issued the ruling in April, and it was finalized last week, USA Today reported.
Sonoma Land Trust sued Toni and Peter Thompson for the damage they caused to the tree and other vegetation on the property protected under a conservation easement.
The Thompsons attempted to relocate the tree to add decoration to their nearby home. However, removing the tree damaged much of the land surrounding it, as 3,000 cubic yards of dirt and rock were removed from the previously undisturbed property, court records showed.
The work was not done with a proper permit, according to court records.
The Thompsons knew about the terms of the conservation easement when they bought the property, Sonoma Land Trust Stewardship Director Bob Neale told The Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
In his ruling, Broderick wrote that the Thompsons "knowingly and intentionally" violated the rules of the conservation easement. He added that the couple "demonstrated an arrogance and complete disregard for the mandatory terms of the easement."
“It was a very thoughtful, very thorough opinion that just covered all the ground that we could ask for,” Sarah H. Sigman, an attorney for Sonoma Land Trust, told The Washington Post. “This is just an egregious violation from the beginning.”
The Thompsons, however, contend that they didn’t mean to kill the tree or damage the land as they did.
“They went into this area because they appreciated the pastoral nature of it, the scenic beauty of it,” the couple’s attorney, Richard Freeman, said. “They wouldn’t have wanted to do anything that was going to cause harm, damage or scar it.”
The Thompsons are filing for a new trial, saying their previous attorney couldn’t represent them sufficiently because he experienced an unexpected family emergency, Freeman said.
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