The right of appeal

The system is a little cock-eyed when the right of appeal is not really a right available to all.

It’s a known fact that any decision made by a Sussex County government body can be appealed to either Court of Chancery (rezonings and conditional uses) or Superior Court (subdivisions or board of adjustment decisions).

It’s also a widely known that when you enter that arena, you better have your act together and be willing to spend some money. You need legal representation that will cost anywhere from $150 to $300 an hour. That means when you speak with your lawyer for 5 minutes, you will get a bill for $20. It doesn’t take long to ring up some major change.

I don’t think you will be able to get your plan together in 5 minutes. It will take more like days of work, adding up to thousands of dollars.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen well-meaning citizens go before county officials in land-use matters – citizens who end up getting overwhelmed. Many come back with lawyers, if they have a second chance.

For most people, hiring an attorney to fight a land-use decision is not high on the priority list, no matter how much passion they have for the issue. The only hopes they have are that several residents can join forces to share the cost or that they find an attorney who is sympathetic to their cause.

Developers, who have lawyers at their disposal and are sometimes lawyers themselves, are in a different ballpark. It’s apples and oranges for sure.

Two recent lawsuits filed by developers against Sussex County (one who is an attorney) bring this issue into the light of day.

Yes, there is an appeal system, but no, it’s not exactly the fairest system. Those with the deepest pockets tend to have the upper hand.


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