6-Year Land Dispute Pits Neighbor Against Neighbor

Six year land dispute pits neighbor against neighbor
By: Kathy Sweeney

HERRIN, IL --All is quiet at the North 14th Street homes of Ed Smith and his neighbor, John Manis in Herrin, Illinois.  But, there's a battle raging between the two men.  At issue?  A 4-foot strip of grass.
"It was not really friendly, but there was a time that he and i could have talked it out a little bit," Ed Smith tells me.  But, that time is long gone for both smith and his neighbor.  Ed manages an apartment building, owned by his former wife and current business partner, Lina Traldi-Smith.  John Manis lives in the house next door. Manis' backyard runs right up against the smith property.
John Manis called me in July of 2000 to show me a videotape he shot, which shows a then  68-year old Ed Smith hacking down a portion of Manis' fence.
"I've never seen such a thing. There's different ways to settle disputes and this is not one of them", Manis told me back then.
I remember being a little nervous asking smith to talk to me back then, because this wasn't just a caught-on-tape moment, Herrin police called it a crime.  Officers arrested Smith on a misdemeanor charge of criminal damage to property.  Six years later... Even with the charges dropped and his record cleared, smith is still visibly upset and angry.
"The state's attorney took me to court 8 different times.  I was not on someone else's property.  It's my property", Smith exclaimed.   And the tax records Smith showed me seem to prove his point.  The "s-4" on his tax bill is the land in question.   Manis' bill shows his property excludes the south 4-feet of his yard.
Carbondale attorney Rich Whitney has worked on two of Smith's four cases.
"In this case....it's further complicated by adverse possession....meaning it's your property but i've been using it, therefore it should be mine..there's a lot of complex legal issues in that", Whitney explains.
In fact, a judge decided in July of 2002 to split the difference, giving two feet to Smith, two to Manis.
"If they can take two feet, they can take all of it. I don't want that to happen," Smith tells me.
And now, the two neighbors are fighting over a large garage that attaches onto the Smith property, infringing on Ed's two feet.  Both men say they've spent tens of thousands of dollars on this six year battle.  Ed Smith has no plans of backing down, or giving up.  And he has this message for his neighbor.
"If i lose my land, he will lose his land.   He should think about this deal."
The land dispute case heads back to court in January of 2007.