Community Focused
Kristina M. DeSenze, an attorney with Media-based Berman & Asbel LLP, helps community members find their voice in matters of environmental, agricultural, and animal law
by Erica Bauwens

“Everyone has a place in the world,” says Kristina M. DeSenze, an attorney with Media-based law firm Berman & Asbel LLP. For her part, DeSenze considers herself an advocate with the goal of helping her neighbors protect their rights and obtain peace of mind amid sensitive, and often contentious, legal matters.

“I don’t like people taking advantage of me, and I don’t like people taking advantage of others,” she says. “I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to help the average person. That’s why I became a lawyer.”

DeSenze’s law practice is rooted in the areas of environmental, agricultural and animal law. Some of the most common cases she handles involve family members without a voice—namely, pets. Be it an issue surrounding veterinary malpractice or custody of a family pet during a divorce or separation, DeSenze can resolve any number of legal issues, while mitigating a client’s emotional distress.

“Sometimes people can’t think clearly when they’re trying to separate their emotions from their legal issue because often legal problems are an emotional experience,” she says. “People need concrete terms laid out for them in order to move forward because not everyone knows their rights when it comes to their pets.”

DeSenze’s expertise is especially helpful to families who are in the middle of a divorce and are trying to decide how to determine the custody of a beloved pet. Although pet custody remains an emerging area of law, DeSenze excels at handling agreements between parties that can satisfy all involved.

“The court doesn’t really view it as a custody agreement similar to a custody agreement for children,” DeSenze explains. “But we try to handle it contractually. The client wants something that says, ‘You get the dog on this weekend, I get the dog on that weekend, and who pays which bills for veterinary care and food.’ And oftentimes that is enough, because they just want to have something concrete and on paper that they can refer to if a problem arises.”

Also, DeSenze’s office is adept at drafting pet trusts as part of a client’s estate plan; this way, the client has the assurance that his or her beloved pet will be cared for, even after he or she is gone.

In matters of veterinary malpractice that result in the death or significant injury of a pet, DeSenze can work with a family to recover their monetary losses. However, under Pennsylvania law, pets are treated as property, which means owners cannot receive compensation for emotional damages as they would in matters of personal injury or wrongful death. Even so, DeSenze can help an owner receive financial restitution in other ways.

“When a client comes into my office, I review all documentation and correspondence, veterinary records and billing statements,” she says. “I’ll look at everything the client has and we discuss what his or her options are, and I’ll let him or her know my opinion as to whether I think he or she has a viable case.”

An animal lover and pet owner herself, DeSenze understands that a client’s pet is more than just a pet; it is a member of the family.

Protecting One’s Rights

DeSenze’s expertise in environmental law is becoming of interest to an increasing number of Pennsylvania homeowners, especially as the state inches closer to the 2018 end date for pipeline expansion projects in the Northeast. As pipeline construction moves into local neighborhoods, some homeowners may feel as if powerhouse gas companies are leaving them with few options. But, according to DeSenze, homeowners can maintain the upper hand in protecting their respective properties.

“Pipelines are a major issue for the greater suburban area,” DeSenze says. “Energy companies are pushing pipelines through the suburban Philadelphia area to get the gas downtown and all along the East Coast. But along the way people own homes, have yards, farms and other property. People don’t realize what their rights are, and these big companies know that, and they strong-arm you a bit because of that.

“I recommend you get an attorney to negotiate the best pipeline agreement you can,” she continues. “Otherwise you’re dealing with large companies with teams of attorneys who do this all the time and treat you like a plot number. … The energy companies often send out people who work for a subsidiary or independent contractor to negotiate lease terms and make a lot of promises, but they can also make representations that are inaccurate. Then you end up getting stuck holding the bag and wondering what happened.”

As part of its service to the community, Berman & Asbel offers free oil and gas lease reviews, as well as free pipeline lease reviews. Aside from taking this step, DeSenze suggests homeowners get involved with their local municipal governments to “stay informed and keep an eye on what’s going on.”

“Since the gas companies do not yet have utility status, they don’t have eminent domain power,” she explains. “If you hear about a pipeline running through your municipality, or if gas companies show up to your local township meetings, come and talk to us. Having someone who can advocate the best possible agreement for you when they put the pipeline through your yard is your best opportunity to protect your rights and your property.”
A Greener Future
In addition to helping residential property owners, DeSenze advises a number of business owners in expanding or relocating their businesses in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly manner. Specifically, she suggests sites known as “brownfields”—real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant—can help turn what most consider no-man’s-land into an affordable expansion opportunity.

“An environmental scientist will have to do tests on the site to determine the level of contamination, but usually you can build whatever you want on top of these brownfields,” she says. “I have contacts that I use that can do environmental site assessments. I help with grant writing, if the client and his project are qualified for any, and I help negotiate of the variety of contracts and agreements that are involved in the remediation process and construction of the new project.”

In January 2014, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed a law creating the Philadelphia Land Bank, offering up thousands of vacant properties in the city to combat blight through redevelopment. As available space continues to dwindle, competition for these undeveloped, yet affordable, expansion opportunities will only intensify.

“You can often purchase brownfields for less money than space that hasn’t been touched yet,” says DeSenze. “It’s also more environmentally friendly, which is becoming a popular option for businesses in the area. Instead of cutting down trees or plowing meadows to build a new box store, you can build on brownfields and promote your business as being environmentally progressive.”

DeSenze says the process is much easier than one might expect, especially with the right legal team to help. The only thing holding back more business owners from considering brownfields as an option, she believes, is that they are not fully aware of their options. She aims to change that, adding, “You just have to get out there, find the brownfield and start dreaming.”

No matter the situation or the need, DeSenze’s community-minded approach puts a satisfying resolution within reach. In each case, she stands with her clients, every step of the way.

“I like to outline what the steps are: what happens after we file a complaint; which court we will start in and where we will likely end up; what are the possible directions I think the case will go; whether we need expert witnesses,” she says. “I find that everyone likes to know where they are stepping before they put their best foot forward. I try to give them the clearest road map that I can.”

“When you look at the kinds of cases I deal with, they can get to be very expensive if you’re not careful,” she continues. “My recommendation is to act before it’s too late. If you feel that something is not right, go with your gut and speak to an attorney. We offer a free half-hour initial consultation and we can really focus on the issues within that half hour to see if you have a claim. It’s better to go with your gut early on than to sit and wait and let life happen to you.”

Kristina M. DeSenze
Berman & Asbel LLP
20 W. Third Street
Media, PA 19063
482-842-0276 |

Photograph by Nina Lea Photography