1/16/2007

Court-OK'd Theft: New York NY Post, 1/16/07

If judges wink at politicians land grabs...
Letter to the Editor

By Bart Didden

THE U.S. Supreme Court may have ruled that private property could be taken for public benefits like jobs or taxes, but what about for outright extortion? Can my private property be taken because I refused to pay off a private developer who wanted land I owned and planned to develop? As remarkable as it sounds, two federal courts in New York already allowed what amounts to outright eminent-domain extortion.

In 2003, a developer approached my business partner and me, saying we could either pay him $800,000 or give him a 50 percent interest in a business we were about to develop, or he would cause the Village of Port Chester to take our property through eminent domain.

Outraged, we refused.

The very next day, Port Chester condemned our property.

(Both sides' attorneys were present when we turned down that offer - and attorneys, as officers of the court, must tell the truth. My attorney will swear this is what occurred and the developer's attorney has never once refuted my account of what transpired. What's more, the developer admitted in a court document that he made this offer.)

And if you think this abuse of power couldn't get more outrageous, consider this fact: I had an agreement to develop a pharmacy on my land, and had a plan fully approved by the town government. So what is the favored developer going to put up if he gets his way? A pharmacy. The same exact use, only one developer (him) has political connections while the other developer (me) has nothing but a deed to the property and constitutional rights that are supposed to be protected by the government, not abused by them.

The Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based public-interest group, came to my aid to ask the Supreme Court to look again at the issue of eminent-domain abuse and ensure that lower courts do not read the high court's Kelo precedent to mean courts can never review eminent-domain cases. The court is expected to decide any day now whether to hear my case.

Federal courts have now become basically like rubber stamps, approving any eminent-domain effort that comes before them. Shockingly, the trial court that heard my case and threw it out, and then the federal appeals court agreed, because my property was within a "redevelopment district" - a region the town had designated as subject to its eminent-domain power - the Constitution didn't protect my property from condemnation. Even though we were condemned solely because we resisted the developer's attempted extortion.

"Go to the Legislature," some might suggest. "They'll fix the problem." Well, the last time the state Legislature met to reform eminent-domain laws, the only specific property it protected from eminent domain was Deepdale Golf Course - a swank private club that is a favorite of politicians, and was threatened with eminent domain to turn it into a public course.

And that is why the courts are so important. The state and local lawmakers will continue to bow to land-hungry developers, so the courts are the only place left where an ordinary American may find protection for what rightfully belongs to them.

But until the Supreme Court takes a case like mine and sends a message to all the lower federal courts that they are not merely judicial bystanders but instead play an important role in protecting my rights, people like me will continue to find their rights under assault and their dreams lost to people with more power.


New York NY Post: http://www.nypost.com