Judge: Man must pay property owner $28K for cutting trees
Jason P. Morse was charged after he cut down nearly five acres of trees on a Farm Road property two years ago during a logging operation that crossed property lines. In June, Morse, 36, pleaded guilty in Vermont Superior Court Bennington Criminal Division to a felony count of unlawful taking of tangible property. He received a two year deferred sentence and was ordered to pay restitution.
Judge William D. Cohen said during a recent hearing that the $28,000 would compensate the New Jersey property owner for damages from the unlawful taking of trees: A $25,000 loss in value to the 11 acre parcel and $3,000 to clean up the property.
Vermont State Police were called in October 2015 after a Farm Road property owner found a logging trail and several acres where trees had been cut down. A logging operation crossed over the property line by several hundred yards. Neighboring property owners had hired Morse to remove trees from their property; they told police they had become worried Morse was taking trees from beyond their property line.
Owner Allan Sharpe of Matawan, N.J. testified this week that he and his wife purchased the 10.99 acre wooded lot in 1987 and have used it for recreation with a plan to eventually log some of the trees. A forester's survey found trees Morse removed from the property had a fair market value of $3,794, he said. Sharpe testified the property's value had diminished from $125,000 to about $100,000. The cost to cleaning up debris across the property, repairing erosion and reseeding grass what are now dirt roads will cost $3,000, he said.
Jonathan Ward, deputy state's attorney, told Cohen the state requested total restitution of $33,074: The $25,000 depreciation in value, the $3,000 to clean up the property, the $3,794 value for the trees, and $1,280 for the forestry survey.
Defense attorney Thomas Enzor, representing Morse, objected to paying for the diminished value of real estate because the property wasn't up for sale when the trees were cut, and for paying to clean up the property, saying Sharpe had not incurred any direct loss as result of that estimate.
Cohen didn't award the amount for the taken trees as restitution, saying it would be double recovery, and the expense of the forester's exam because it wasn't specific to damage caused by the unlawful taking.
Ward said those costs could be recovered in a civil suit, but that no suit had been filed.
Reach staff writer Edward Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111 or @edamon_banner.
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