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Dispute over yellowed lawn goes to trial

The trial over a yellow lawn began in Hillsborough Circuit Court on Monday, more than four years after the costly saga began.

A jury of four men and three women started hearing testimony in the dispute, which has been heard by five judges and has cost more than $100,000 in legal fees.

The case pits the Pebble Creek Homeowners Association against one of its homeowners.

Ed and Billye Simmons have refused to pay for a resodding job on their home, contending the association overstepped its bounds when it replaced their lawn.

During jury selection, potential jurors were questioned about their homes, their landscaping routines and their opinions of deed-restricted communities.

Circuit Judge Cheryl Thomas briefed the jury pool on the case, which later prompted one potential juror to admit that he found the entire thing "silly."

"Yeah, I agree with what he said," another potential juror piped up.

Both men were dismissed.

After the jurors were selected, they were taken back to fall 2000, when the Simmonses, along with more than 150 homeowners, were cited by the association for having yellow lawns.

Ricky Thacker, the attorney representing the association, said the Simmonses ignored several warning letters, including a one by certified mail.

In 2002, the board voted to hire a company to replace the sod.

They sought competitive bids.

No one wanted to perform the "forced and involuntary" job, except for a company that is owned by a man who sat on the board at the time, Thacker said.

He defended the association, saying every step along the way was "appropriate and reasonable."

"The evidence will support a finding that Pebble Creek is entitled to recover those costs associated with the yard," Thacker said.

Not so, Burton Williams, the Simmonses' lawyer, said in his opening statement.

The association, which monitors 1,049 homes in its community north of Cross Creek Boulevard, sent out warning letters after a particularly mean drought, Williams said. Even the county, which restricted lawn watering, had urged homeowner associations to lay off on writing up parched lawns.

"Everybody's lawn was dying," he said.

The monitoring of homes was inconsistent, the association kept shoddy records and the Simmonses were targeted, he said.

Witnesses will have to rely on memory to describe the couple's former lawn, Williams noted, because the association took no photographs.

"I would say this whole thing is a Kodak moment," Williams said, "but there are no photographs."

The trial continues today and is expected to last until the end of the week.