Friday, October 29, 2010

Bill Perkins' Lonely Fight

In the fight to prevent the state and Columbia University from seizing private property for purposes that are only tangentially public, State Senator Bill Perkins has been a beacon of truth in a sea of political complicity and mendacity-and now Perkins is taking a further step in this battle by joing Nick Sprayregen and The Singhs in their appeal of the adverse NY State Court of Appeals ruling in favor of the university. The Columbia Spectator has the story: "As opponents to Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion seek to get their case heard before the nation’s highest court, one prominent Harlem politician has officially stepped into the fray. State Senator Bill Perkins urged the United States Supreme Court to accept the case by filing an amicus brief with the court on Oct. 25—a document, literally meaning “friend of the court,” written by a party not directly related to the litigation, but who has an interest in the case under consideration."

The main line of Perkin's legal attack is on the concept of public use as articulated by the high court in Kelo: "In Perkins’ brief, which Spectator obtained a copy of on Tuesday, he echoed the attorneys’ argument, asserting that the Court of Appeals ignored legal safeguards articulated in the landmark 2005 Supreme Court ruling in Kelo v. City of New London­—in which the Supreme Court ruled that land could be transferred from one private owner to another through eminent domain in order to promote economic rejuvenation—and in the process abdicated its responsibility of judicial law review."

There is simply no way, in our view, that the confiscation of private property in West Harlem has anything to do with a public use-and the plan was hatched in the bowels of CU and emerged fully grown somehow as a state initiative-call it legerdemain. Yet the Court of Appeals, lacking much that is appealing to us, shot down this argument and bitch slapped SC Justice Kennedy's Kelo opinion: "Perkins’ latest move comes on the heels of a significant ruling in which the New York State Court of Appeals declared this summer that eminent domain can be used to obtain private properties in West Harlem. This outcome was a major victory for Columbia, as it effectively paved the way for the University to acquire the remaining private property in the neighborhood."

And it also paved the way for the complete evisceration of property rights in NY State-as the Appellate Court's adverse decision in East Harlem underscores. In that ruling Judge Catterson, who had eloquently struck down the Columbia seizures before the Court of Appeals did the same to him, basically threw up his hands even though he thought that the move to take the property of these small business owners was a crock, and the blight argument bogus:

"Judge Catterson's concurring opinion underscores just how non-existent property rights are in this state: "In my view, the record amply demonstrates that the neighborhood in question is not blighted, that whatever blight exists is due to the actions of the City and/or is located far outside the project area, and that the justification of under-utilization is nothing but a canard to aid in the transfer of private property to a developer. Unfortunately for the rights of the citizens affected by the proposed condemnation, the recent rulings of the Court of Appeals in Matter of Goldstein v. New York State Urban Dev. Corp., 13 NY3d 511, 893 N.Y.S.2d 472, 921 N.E.2d 164 (2009) and Matter of Kaur v. New York State Urban Dev. Corp., 15 NY3d 235, —- N.E.2d —— (2010), have made plain that there is no longer any judicial oversight of eminent domain proceedings. Thus, I am compelled to concur with the majority." (emphasis added)"

All of which dramatizes just why it is so important to change the laws of NY State so that they afford a modicum of protection for property owners. But, as we have pointed out, the issue has not been center stage in the current election cycle-and AG Cuomo has been noticeably silent. If left unchanged-and the Sprayregen/Perkins appeal is unsuccessful-the idea that a person's home is their castle will become outmoded and quaint; at least if you own property in New York.