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Tree-cutting fight ends in $165,000 legal bill

A North Vancouver couple who got into an acrimonious legal fight with their neighbour over tree-cutting, then a fight with their lawyer over his bill, have been told most of the $169,000 legal tab they were handed is a fair and reasonable fee.

A North Vancouver couple who got into an acrimonious legal fight with their neighbour over tree-cutting, then a fight with their lawyer over his bill, have been told most of the $169,000 legal tab they were handed is a fair and reasonable fee.

The six-figure legal bill was the result of a nasty years-long court battle that began with a fight over tree-cutting in North Vancouvers Montroyal neighbourhood in July 2005.

According to court documents, Sak Keung Chiu and Tak Kuen Chong had just moved into their new house at Skyline Drive and Alpine Court when their neighbour Elmer Friesen approached them about trimming some trees on their property to improve his ocean view.

Chiu agreed, but the couple were later horrified when Friesen cut down far more than they wanted and refused to stop even when Chong asked him to.

In retaliation, the couple strung up cables with large banners on their property to block Friesens view of the ocean, including one with the words You damaged my trees.

The troubles soon escalated, with Chiu and Chong alleging Friesen distributed a letter around the neighbourhood, questioning Chongs mental health and saying she was anti-social and had butchered her own trees.

Chiu and Chong then went to Friesens workplace, where he was the chief executive officer of a small company, and picketed outside, handing out pamphlets. Friesen was promptly fired.

In 2006, the battling neighbours took their feud to the courts. Chiu and Chong sued Friesen for damage to their trees. Friesen sought and was granted an injunction banning them from putting up any more banners. He also sued the couple for defamation.

At that point in the legal fight, the lawyer representing Chiu and Chong advised them to settle the dispute.

Instead, they hired another lawyer, Clive Ansley, and continued to battle in the courts.

At a meeting in August 2007 two years after the fight began the couple were told the cost of continuing their case against Friesen could be as high as $200,000. That didnt seem to faze them, said witnesses who were present.

As the judge noted, Ansley had been told by the couple this was a matter of principle and that he was to go to court no matter what it cost.

Two years after that, in 2009, the case was finally settled, with Chiu and Chong agreeing to pay Friesen $30,000.

Soon after, however, the couple became disenchanted with their lawyer and refused to pay the remainder of the $169,000 bill.

According to the judge who heard the case between the couple and Ansley, The clients have taken no particular issue with any of the fees specifically, they just say retroactively that they believe they should not have had to pay anything at all.

The judge however, disagreed and ordered them to pay the remaining amount owed minus $4,000 which he said accounted for work billed by Ansley that wasnt strictly necessary for the case.

In reaching the decision, the judge noted the couple had never voiced unhappiness with their legal representation or the fees charged until after the settlement was reached with Friesen, and Ansley subsequently talked them out of trying to sue somebody else.

The judge noted that the case between the couple and their lawyer was very unusual due to the complexity of the original legal case, the masses of documentation involved and the emotional issues of the clients, including their feelings of having been wronged and their need to take it out on somebody.

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