Stop Government Abuses of Eminent Domain
Land Rights Case in Connecticut
Eminent domain is sometimes abused by corrupt governments as a way to grant special privileges to private corporations. This shocking, immoral, corrupt behavior is becoming more common.
Here is a December 3, 2002, Hartford Courant article on this subject, circulated by a group called FEAR (Forfeiture Endangers American Rights). You can find FEAR on the WWW at http://www.fear.org/
by Lynne TuohyWith more than half the property in its borders tax-exempt, financially distressed New London is staking its prosperity on the development of a 90-acre expanse along the Thames River known as Fort Trumbull.
Standing in the way are a few determined homeowners and their lawsuit, which was argued Monday before the state Supreme Court.
It is a controversy of constitutional proportions that has gained national prominence. It is underscored by a public policy passed by the legislature that economic development is vital to Connecticut's future.
But it is also a legal dilemma that involves names on mailboxes and people who do not want their homes - in some cases their birthplaces - taken by the city. New London officials and their designated development agency want to claim their land and devote much of it to office space and other private development.
Wilhelmina Dery, one of the plaintiffs, was born in her home in 1918. Tom Picinich and his wife spent a great deal to renovate their 1892 Victorian, only to have it be among the first houses taken by eminent domain. They have yet to receive a penny for their home, they said, but had to pay the mortgage for an additional 18 months after they were ousted.
"We wanted to be there for the long term," Picinich said Monday. "They want to level everything."
The Fort Trumbull development plan has been in the works for four years now, and in the courts for two. A 249-page ruling by New London Superior Court Judge Thomas Corradino earlier this year amounted to a split decision that gave each side something and left nobody happy.
Corradino ruled that the development plans for one parcel, 2.4 acres in total, are too vague to warrant the extreme measure of seizing private property by eminent domain. That spared four homeowners, but jeopardized parking for a key component of the plan - a marina.
He also ruled, however, that the development plan overall was in the public's interest, and justified the taking of three homes in a 7-acre parcel. Corradino spent nine pages of his decision scaling back the road plans for the project.
Both sides predict dire consequences if the ruling, or those portions of it they dispute, is allowed to stand.
Attorney Thomas Londregan, representing the city of New London, said Corradino's ruling would have "a chilling effect on future municipal development plans," and predicted that "superior court judges will become municipal planners."
From the homeowners' perspective, attorneys Dana Berliner and Scott Bullock argue in their brief that Corradino's ruling amounts to "an extraordinary expansion of the use of eminent domain in Connecticut - an expansion this court should regard with grave misgiving."
There is no dispute that much of the land seized - 80 parcels to date, with the others hinging on the high court's decision - will be developed privately. But New London officials and lawyers for their designated development agency - the New London Development Corp. - maintain that the tax revenues, employment opportunities and enhanced access to the riverfront make it a public use that justifies eminent domain. Projected tax revenues would increase from $362,000 to $2.6 million.
The case has attracted the interest and legal power of the Institute of Justice - a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit agency that fights government intervention, particularly in eminent domain cases. The New London case is one of three the institute is litigating nationwide; the others are in New York and Arizona.
John Kramer, vice president for communications for the Institute for Justice, said Monday that expanding the tax base is not sufficient justification for eminent domain.
"If that can be a justification, then literally no one's home, no one's land, no one's business, is safe anywhere in the state of Connecticut," Kramer said. "Replacing a home with a business, replacing a small business with a bigger business, will certainly increase the tax base, but in the end we lose that fundamental right - our property right."
Martin King III, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and son of the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., weighed in Monday with a letter in support of the homeowners. King had successfully fought a similar eminent domain battle on behalf of second-generation African American landowners against Nissan Corp. in Mississippi, with the help of the Institute of Justice.
"Eminent domain should be used for true public projects, not to take from one private land owner to give to another wealthier land owner," King wrote. "That is wrong and it should stop in Connecticut and throughout the country."
Judge Corradino said the case amounted to a conflict of American dreams.
But Bullock argued before the justices that they didn't have to conflict. "They are compatible," he said Monday, saying homeowners and the development could share space. But the New London Development Corp. - with the city's blessing - rejected that notion and chose a more commercially attractive route.
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