Todd Law Firm May 2019

May 2019 512-472-7799

Eminent Domain | Family Law | Personal Injury

The Tricks of the Trade Dealing With Right of Way Agents in Eminent Domain Cases

May is the month we celebrate Mother’s Day, which reminds me of a recent call from a client whose mother lives on a ranch out in the country. A large corporation wants to run a pipeline right through the middle of her property. The folks negotiating with my client’s mom had interacted with her in a way that her son didn’t feel was honest or forthright. He asked me to take a look at her situation and provide my legal opinion. But first, I had to provide my human opinion. Simply put, no one would want their mom (or themselves) to be treated this way. Before I explain why experiences like these are far from rare, I want to explain about how eminent domain negotiations work. For example, when a company wants to create a natural gas pipeline that snakes across Texas, they need to negotiate with landowners to get easements for the pipeline. To do this, they hire what are known as right of way agents. These are people tasked with securing the land rights for a project. While they represent the pipeline company’s interests, they are usually independent contractors, hired for this specific purpose. Some of these folks are nice, honest people trying to do their job as best they can. Some, unfortunately, are not. Nice or not, their goal is to get your land as quickly and cheaply as possible so the pipeline company keeps using them for these projects. They may be friendly, but they are not your friend. Their best interest is the opposite of yours. The agents are under pressure to resolve issues quickly and for as little money as possible. That pressure can force some of these agents to be less than truthful or use underhanded manipulation to get your signature. In my dealings with eminent domain, I’ve seen certain negotiating tricks used over and over. One method is to misrepresent how long you as a property owner have to make a decision. “You

have two weeks to accept an offer,” the agent may say. “After that, we’ll need to begin court proceedings.” They say this to create anxiety and urgency in your mind and put you under pressure. It may be true, but it might not. Either way, you should not take the agent’s word for it. Projects and court proceedings can take a long time. In a world where you have weeks to settle something as straightforward as a parking ticket, do you really believe a land rights matter must be decided in a matter of days? Another common trick could best be described as “everybody’s doing it” or “last man standing.” An agent will tell you that all your neighbors have agreed to a settlement and you are the “last holdout.”Most landowners have no idea if that is true or not unless they communicate regularly with all their neighbors. Again, the goal is simply to rush the landowner into agreeing to a deal, regardless of their best interests. Also, remember that every property is different and what your neighbor agreed to may be irrelevant to the value you deserve for your property. Besides, your neighbor may have made a bad deal! Finally, agents may discourage you from calling an attorney, telling you it will only create hassle and cost you money. What they don’t tell you is that the vast majority of eminent

domain attorneys (myself included) are paid on a contingency basis, where the lawyer gets paid a percentage of what they can obtain for you above the first offer from the company. That way, unlike the right of way agent, the attorney’s interests are aligned with yours; the more money they get for you, the more they make. And, if they do not get you more than the initial offer, they don’t get paid. The vast majority of landowners do not obtain full value for their property because they do not get help from an eminent domain lawyer. Obviously, right of way agents won’t tell you any of this. Knowing all this, what should you as a landowner do to protect yourself? Contact an eminent domain attorney as soon as you learn about a project affecting your property or hear from a right of way agent. There is no downside to doing so, and the upside can be significant. And that’s the kind of good advice your mom would give you, too.

Happy Mother’s Day!

-David Todd | 1

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It’s not an overstatement to say that social media has revolutionized the way we live our lives today. But with that massively powerful platform comes a massive responsibility, especially if you’re already in the spotlight. Athletes have taken the opportunity social media affords them to build their personal brands and engage in community outreach with the fans who look to them as role models, but there’s a downside to cataloging years of unfiltered thoughts on the internet. For better or worse, social media is here to stay, and we have full access to all the drama that unfolds for our entertainment. Despite the web’s potential for good, some pros can’t seem to get the message that every post falls under the scrutiny of the public. PR firms representing players have now made it a top priority to keep their clients’ images in line by scrubbing old posts that could be offensive and land them in hot water. Still, though, it seems like there’s a new controversy every week. One of the best examples comes courtesy of former football star“Johnny Football”Manziel. The former HeismanTrophy winner was notorious for posting embarrassing images of himself partying when he should have been practicing, and he often blasted his private issues in public, seemingly

with no filter. He’s out of a job now, most recently having been banned from the Canadian Football League. For every bad apple, though, there is a bushel of athletes who use their platforms for the greater good. HoustonTexans defensive end J.J. Watt, five-time Pro Bowler and NFL star, has used his social media“juice”to spread the word about his charity, raising over $4.6 million for youth athletic programs and organizations.

Philanthropy aside, part of the beauty of celebrity social media is that the people who seem so much larger than life become accessible because of it. In decades past, you might have written a letter that, if you were fortunate, got a response from some unpaid intern. Today, fans can reach out directly to their favorite athletes. It is a personal connection unparalleled in history. What a time to be alive.


Your estate plan is far more than just a set of documents. It’s a declaration of what you find most important and a roadmap of the legacy you’d like to leave. Not only does a proper estate plan ensure that your loved ones will be taken care of when you’re gone, but it also allows you to make an impact on the wider world through charitable giving. Many avenues exist for making planned gifts to nonprofits, but here are some of the basics on how to make giving a part of your plan.

notify an organization about what you are planning to give. Smaller philanthropies may not accept complex assets, such as stocks or real estate. On the other hand, some charities may specialize in specific assets. For example, if your home is considered a historic site within your town, you may want to gift it to a preservation society so that it stays properly maintained.



There are different ways to structure a charitable bequest, giving you the flexibility to make sure your estate planning goals are met. If you have a set sum of money or a particular asset you wish to leave to a charity, you can make a specific bequest in your will. However, if you want to ensure your loved one’s needs are met before giving a portion of your estate to charity, you can make what’s known as a residuary gift. With a residuary gift, once debts have been paid off and your other beneficiaries have received their bequests, a specified percentage of your remaining estate will go to a charity of your choice.

The most basic way to give to a charity is by naming it in your will. Simply name the charitable organization you wish to support among your beneficiaries, and specify the assets you wish to give. If estate or income taxes are a concern, ensure your chosen organization is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit. These are the charities the IRS deems tax-exempt.

MATCH THE ASSETS TO THE CHARITY Almost all charities will accept cash bequests, though


Depending on your income level and the kinds of assets in your estate, more complex means of making a planned gift may be available to you. Talk to your estate planner to see if creating a charitable trust or establishing a foundation is the right move for you.

it is always a good idea to

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How to Cultivate Valuable Customer Reviews THE GOOD KIND OF GOSSIP When you’re thinking about buying a new product or service, what’s the first step you take? If you turn to the world wide web in search of reviews, then you’re in good company. According to a survey conducted by BrightLocal, 85 percent of consumers regard the customer review to be the single most credible and trustworthy source of advertising. That same survey found that 68 percent of customers surveyed were willing to provide feedback for a company. So, how do you get your customers to write the glowing reviews that help close deals? Don’t rely on customers to go to your website to leave reviews. There are numerous websites you can utilize that make leaving feedback more convenient for your clients. What’s more is that these other platforms are highly trafficked. BrightLocal found that Facebook and Yelp were consumers’ most trusted source of user reviews in the U.S., but you can also use Google My Business or the Better Business Bureau. Most importantly, be sure you are active on all the platforms you use. DIVERSIFY YOUR PLATFORMS





1/2 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined 1/2 pound cooked sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 tablespoons paprika

Give your clients a reason to write reviews. Consider offering incentives like a discount or coupon code, coffee gift card, or an entry to win a contest for an even bigger prize.

1/2 tablespoon garlic powder

1/2 tablespoon onion powder

2 zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 tablespoon cayenne or chili powder


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Wooden skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes

Think of the review process as a conversation rather than a request to be met, and use open-ended questions to start. Before you even request a review, you can ask customers questions like “How was your recent experience with us?” or “How are you liking your product?”That way, you can gauge their satisfaction before they leave any feedback.

1/4 tablespoon dried oregano

1/4 tablespoon dried thyme


1. Heat your grill to medium-high. 2. In a bowl, combine all ingredients for creole seasoning. 3. In a large bowl, combine the shrimp, zucchini pieces, and sausage pieces, and cover them with the olive oil. 4. Add creole seasoning and mix well until all ingredients are covered. 5. Load up skewers with alternating pieces of shrimp, sausage, and zucchini until they’re full. 6. Grill skewers until shrimp are well-cooked (6–8 minutes). Inspired by Food Network


The last thing you want to see is a scathing one-star review. But no matter how hard you work, they are still bound to happen. When you receive one, take the time to respond thoughtfully —without being defensive — and try to come up with a possible solution to the complaint. And be sure to respond to your positive reviews as well. When you show that you engage with all of your customers, prospective ones will be more likely to give you a shot. | 3

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Eminent Domain | Family Law | Personal Injury

3800 N. Lamar Blvd STE 200 Austin, TX 78756

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Don’t Settle for Less in Your Eminent Domain Case

The Golden Era of Athletes on Social Media Making Charity a Part of Your Estate Plan

Shrimp Sausage Skewers The Value of User Reviews


Genealogy Sites Provide Breakthroughs in Cold Cases

GENEALOGY SITES AND THE WARMING OF COLD CASES The Revolution in Forensic Science Continues to Captivate the Masses

We’ve come a long way in the field of forensic science since 1986, when DNA was first used to convict someone in court. In 2019, criminals who would have gotten away with their crimes in the past are now put behind bars where they belong. The advent of genealogy testing has been thrust into the spotlight with high- profile cases that were solved by sequestering information from sites like 23andMe and With this revolution in DNA testing on the rise, there’s really no end to the impossible-to-solve cold cases that can finally be put to rest. Whatever the motivation was behind genealogy sites in the beginning, they’re now some of the most sought-after databases in the world and are worth billions for their collection of the most personal consumer data in existence. Using these websites’ data, investigators can make DNA matches with potential offenders. The most famous recent case is the successful apprehension of Joseph James DeAngelo, otherwise known as the Golden State Killer.

After 13 murders and dozens of assaults, he was finally brought to justice after investigators matched his DNA to the evidence found at the crime scenes. They gained access to his DNA from the personal genomics site GEDmatch.

to its customers, law enforcement agencies successfully subpoenaed the companies to hand over the requested data. With the ability to theoretically solve any crime with preserved DNA, law enforcement and websleuths alike are foaming at the mouth at the possibilities genealogy testing has to offer. If only we’d preserved some of Jack the Ripper’s DNA!

Although access to the data of popular sites like 23andMe and is restricted

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