The reality TV show “The People’s Court” serves a function beyond entertainment by providing an outside-the-courtroom venue for arbitration of hundreds of small claims cases across the country each year.
Appearing on the show six years ago certainly brought two longtime Hartford neighbors their 15 minutes of fame, and netted each a payment of $250. But the very public arbitration session failed to prevent the legal discord between the neighbors, Elisa Green and Stephanie Woodlock, from infiltrating the Connecticut court system.
Recently, a Connecticut Superior Court judge put an end to the six-year-long dispute, issuing an eight-page ruling on what ended up being an emotional distress claim. It was, to borrow from the TV show, “The Case of the Barking Dog,” and involved a claim from Green, who represented herself, that she had been “defamed” by Woodlock.
“It was embarrassing is what it was,” said Kate Kowalyshyn, the Hartford attorney who represented Woodlock. The lawyer said the case was referred to her, and she took the matter to trial at a reduced rate because she felt sorry for Woodlock.
According to court records, the two women have lived next to each other on Tremont Street in Hartford’s West End for 12 years. In 2008, Woodlock hired Green to paint her house. But Green wasn’t happy with the final payment amount and she filed a lawsuit in Hartford Superior Court against Woodlock, seeking about $1,000. But before the case went to trial in Connecticut, the parties were invited to appear on “The People’s Court” before Marilyin Milian, a retired Florida state Circuit Court judge.
After hearing and testimony from both women, Milian dismissed Green’s claim for the extra cash. Even though Green failed to sway the TV judge, in Connecticut court records she wrote that she considered the fact that she was paid by the TV show as a victory.
No sooner had the women returned home from taping the show in New York than their dispute took another turn. This time, they began arguing about a dog Green was keeping “intermittently” at her home. The dog, according to police reports, was a pit bull named “Ya-yo” owned by a friend of Green’s.
Woodlock began calling authorities about the dog, complaining it had been left unattended on a rear porch and was barking “entirely too loudly.” These complaints continued through 2011, with animal control officers responding. In one report, an officer noted that the dog did not bark until he entered the backyard, and observed “it was likely the dog was barking only when people walked through a nearby parking area.”
That officer advised Green to get a “barking collar” for the dog. She agreed to do so, according to records, but the barking complaints continued.
In 2012, Green filed a lawsuit against Woodlock, claiming her complaints about Ya-yo’s barking were false. In the lawsuit, Green claimed she suffered from emotional distress.
Superior Court Judge Sheila Huddleston denied a request by Woodlock’s lawyer to dismiss the claim, and allowed evidence to be presented at trial. During the one-hour June 3 trial, Woodlock presented testimony from neighbors who described her as “an honest person,” court records show.
Huddleston also considered five police reports describing the complaints about the Green’s dog. At the end of the day, the judge wrote that Green failed to show as required under state law that the complaints “were so extreme and outrageous” that they could have caused emotional distress. Further, the judge wrote, Green did not prove the complaints against her were false, or that an actual injury occurred to her as a result of the complaints.
In the end, the real-life court case was decided not on the credibility of one person’s word over the other as had been the case on “The People’s Court,” but on the principles of law, Huddleston said.
Attorney Kowalyshyn declined to comment about the outcome of the case. Green could not be reached for comment.
In her decision, Huddleston said she gave “no weight” to witness testimony about Woodlock’s honesty and character. Instead, Huddleston explained it was simply a matter of Green’s claim not rising to the threshold required to prove emotional distress.
“The court finds that the plaintiff failed to prove that she suffered emotional distress so severe that it might cause illness or physical harm,” Huddleston wrote. “She is clearly angry with the defendant and believes the defendant’s complaints to have been unjustified. But her anger is not the type of emotional distress that has been recognized as a compensable injury.” •