While it takes most lawyers over seven years of hard work before being admitted to the West Virginia State Bar, don’t tell that to real estate appraiser Jeffrey Eisenbeiss. While arguing against the proposed Greenbrier County windfarm in front of the state Supreme Court of Appeals on Monday, one justice mistook him for the real thing.
Eisenbeiss and his wife Alicia filed as “intervenors” in 2005 with the Public Service Commission when Beech Ridge Energy announced plans to build their part of a $300 million electric-producing windfarm near their home in Renick. Some of the proposed 400-foot tall turbines fall within one mile of their front porch. The Eisenbiess’ decided to file “pro se” – without the aid of a lawyer – despite having no legal background.
“It’s been a combined effort for the two of us,” Jeffrey told The Register-Herald after his experience of being in front of the highest court in the state. “We have filed at least a half dozen legal documents.”
Most of their lengthy legal documents and briefs – some longer than 80 pages – include “legalese” styled words that the Eisienbiess’ learned from studying other documents filed by lawyers with the PSC. The couple also works closely with Mountain Communties for Responsible Energy – the leading voice against the proposed windfarm.
With five-year-old Emma and six-year-old Mabel with their mother in the packed gallery of the Supreme Court, Jeffrey admitted he was “a little nervous of course” when he strolled to the lectern and gave oral arguments to four of the five justices sitting on the bench. Eisienbiess was trying to convince the justices that his case should be placed on the high court’s docket for full consideration.
“The whole issue of industrial wind turbines siting is an important public policy issue question that cries out for legislative action and public debate,” Eisienbess said. “The PSC erred in their discretion in the use of their authority to appraise and balance the interest of the public and the interest of the state and local economy …”
Using words like “assignments of error” and “predisposes a conclusion,” Justice Joseph P. Albright stopped the proceedings about 10 minutes into Eisienbiess’ arguments. Eisienbiess had just mentioned about filing “pro se.”
“I want to maybe make an apology to you … you are not a lawyer?” Albright asked Eisenbeiss.
“No sir I am not.”
“You know, I think I probably owe you an apology because I asked you some technical proof questions and I am very impressed with your presentation,” Albright said.
Justice Elliot “Spike” Maynard also weighed in. “You did a nice job.”
Even the most seasoned lawyer can get weak-kneed after being grilled by a supreme court justice, but Jeffrey took it all in stride.
“I was just trying to intrepret it logically and give them explanations based on my convictions,” he said. “I was elated Justice Albright thought I was a lawyer.”
Monday evening the supreme court granted the Eisenbiess’ petiton to have their full case heard. Since 1999, the high court has entertained only 48 “pro se” cases out of about 1,400.
And what if you lose at the state level? Could a trip to the United States Supreme Court be in their future?
“We’ll take it to the next level if we have to,” Alicia said. “This is to protect our family and protect our property.
By Christian Giggenbach
18 April 2007
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