9/16/2006

Eminent domain case shows hard-nosed court: Decatur AL Daily, 9/14/06

Editorial

Republicans chased every single Democrat off the Alabama Supreme Court with one message: We don't make law, we just interpret law.

That sounds awfully good and suggests that political or financial interests swayed the courts before the Republican coup. Now comes a case where the state's highest court showed absolutely no compassion in an eminent domain case appeal.

Did a hard-nosed court make law or did it interpret law in the case of a Covington County man whose land the state condemned for a highway?

The court said that Craig Boutwell lost his right to appeal the condemnation order because he was one day late in filing, even though he followed the advice of the probate judge in his county, who is an attorney.

The court said the deadline for appealing begins running when a probate judge signs a condemnation order, not when the judge officially files it.

Thus, which filing date starts the clock ticking on appeals put the court either in a law-making mode or left it to explain "what the Legislature meant."

Unfortunately, the Legislature never answered the question over the years. But the Court of Civil Appeals did. It said that the 30-day deadline must begin at the filing of the condemnation order in probate court. Otherwise the probate judge could make an order but delay filing it and deny the landowner enough time to appeal.

Neither the courts nor the Legislature has specifically defined at what time a probate judge makes a condemnation order. Because neither has, Mr. Boutwell asked the court to make an exception for him and give him a chance to appeal the price the state is willing to pay for his property.

The court's answer is that it was "mindful of the potential unfairness" but it must follow the meaning of state law.

But couldn't the court have shown a bit of compassion and easily have gone the other way in its "interpretation" of the law?


Decatur AL Daily: http://www.decaturdaily.com