Lawyer fires back at TRPA |

Lawyer fires back at TRPA

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

A well-known Tahoe attorney has a message for the Governing Board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency: Don’t discriminate and don’t make unfair comments.

Melvin Laub’s message was provoked by comments about him at the last TRPA Governing Board meeting board. Tom Quinn, a board member appointed by Gov. Gray Davis, said regarding Laub, “Is this the attorney who doesn’t know the law?”

John Marshall, lead attorney at the agency, had just informed the board that Laub had filed a counter lawsuit against the agency regarding a dispute over limbs cut from trees at Laub’s Zephyr Cove home.

“I’m just shocked they talked so harshly and negatively about people,” Laub, 67, said. “What I would consider a minor lawsuit has become a major lawsuit the way they’ve handled it.

“It’s pettiness and emotionalism. It’s unprofessionalism that hurts the dignity of what they are trying to accomplish. Notice what they did for the (tree) contractor, they let him work it off. How come I can’t work it off? That’s discrimination. They should take my good money and make this place a better place to live. Maybe they don’t like lawyers, I don’t know.”

The illegal tree cutting occurred on Laub’s property and that of his neighbor, Paul Porch, in fall 2000 and spring 2001. The work was done by Joe Benigno, who has already negotiated a settlement with the TRPA for the illegal work.

He and two of his employees have each completed 40 hours of free forestry work for Nevada State Lands, which had some of its trees damaged by the contractor. If he had not completed the work, Benigno would have to pay a $12,000 fine.

Laub has tried to settle the case by offering to buy and help plant $6,000 worth of trees. He also suggested he’d make amends by paying to publicize the law that makes it illegal to cut limbs from trees without a permit.

Attorneys at the agency said Laub needs to pay $6,000 in cash, not in trees or other ways, because that’s what the Governing Board has ordered.

“We are ready and willing to settle this matter,” said Jordan Kahn, assistant TRPA counsel. “The Governing Board assessed a $6,000 fine that he refuses to pay. Instead now he wants to drag this out by filing a counter claim for mental anguish among other things.

“The TRPA has nothing personal against Mr. Laub, however, he did benefit economically as a result of these violations. He increased the view on his property and the environment suffered because of a violation he is responsible for.”

Laub and Porch, who has been fined $11,000 for his violations, which include the topping of several trees, have both filed lawsuits against Benigno. They claim he is the tree expert and should have known what is illegal.

Tree surgeons in Nevada should be required to be licensed and know the laws, Laub said.

Jesse Jones, tree specialist at the TRPA, said he did not believe tree services in Nevada need a license.

Benigno has owned a service at Lake Tahoe Basin for five years. He said he was caught in the middle and pressured by Porch to do the work. According to Benigno, Porch withheld payment for past work saying he would not pay him until he trimmed a group of pines beyond Porch’s property line on Nevada state land.

No court dates are set regarding any of the lawsuits. Attorneys are entering into discovery, during which they share any evidence or witnesses that might be used at trial.

“If it gets really heavy I’d bring in special federal lawyers and maybe constitutional lawyers,” Laub said.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or at

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.