Long Branch Homeowners Seek Their Day in Court

PRESS RELEASE: March 20, 2006

John Kramer
Lisa Knepper
(703) 682-9320

Arlington, Va.—The City of Long Branch, N.J., is trying to seize cherished homes in the modest MTOTSA neighborhood along the beachfront in order to give the land to a private developer so it can build upscale condos for the wealthy.  And not only is Long Branch trying to take their homes, it’s trying to deny the homeowners their day in court.

That’s why this Friday [March 24, 2006] the homeowners are going to ask a Monmouth County judge for a chance to do what Long Branch has argued against in its legal papers:  present their case that the taking of their homes is unconstitutional.

The purpose of the Friday hearing is to determine whether the judge will rule on the very limited evidence now available or allow the homeowners the chance to prove that the taking of their homes is an illegal abuse of the power of eminent domain.  Incredibly, in its initial filing with the court, Long Branch argued that the homeowners are not entitled to make their case because Long Branch has assured the court that its use of eminent domain is above board.

“Long Branch is asking the judge to let the fox guard the henhouse,” said Jeff Rowes, a staff attorney with the Institute for Justice, which leads the nationwide fight against eminent domain abuse.  “If the courts were to accept Long Branch’s ridiculous argument, no one would ever be able to challenge any violation of the Constitution.  Fortunately for New Jersey’s homeowners, that is not the law.”

Denise Hoagland, one of the MTOTSA homeowners, is looking forward to the hearing because it represents the first step in the legal effort to save her home.  She said, “We’ve fought this case publicly for years and won in the public eye.  All we want is our day in court so we can see that justice is finally served.  Why is Long Branch so afraid of allowing us our day in court?”

“Long Branch is quickly becoming the poster child of eminent domain abuse,” said Scott Bullock, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, which defended the homeowners in the landmark eminent domain case Kelo v. City of New London.  “It is essential that this outrageous abuse of power be stopped immediately, but the only way for that to happen is for the judge to let the homeowners engage in discovery and put these illegal condemnations on trial.”

Long Branch officials try to justify seizing the whole MTOTSA neighborhood by alleging that it is “blighted.”  The City came to this conclusion after a City employee, who had no qualifications as a housing inspector, secretly toured the area and decided that 3 out of 38 homes were in “poor” condition because of trivial problems like cracked masonry.  In Long Branch, if fewer than one in ten homes doesn’t look good enough to some secret city employee, the whole neighborhood can be bulldozed to make way for private development.

Long Branch has also decided that the MTOTSA homeowners are “underutilizing” their properties and must leave their homes to make way for the wealthy.

“In Long Branch’s view, citizens’ rights are measured on how heavily they can be taxed,” said Rowes.  “Not only is this perspective an insult to the homeowners’ dignity, it is incompatible with basic notions of liberty and equality at the heart of the New Jersey and U.S. Constitutions.”

Bill Giordano, another MTOTSA homeowner, echoed Hoagland’s resolve.  He said, “Finally, after years of trying unsuccessfully to get Long Branch to do the right thing on its own, we are going to ask the judge for the opportunity to vindicate our rights under New Jersey law.  We aren’t here just to save our homes, but to establish protection for the property rights of homeowners everywhere.”

The Institute for Justice is organizing a rally at the Monmouth County Courthouse in Freehold, N.J., for 9 a.m., one hour before the hearing.  Institute attorneys will be on hand to support the homeowners and discuss their case with the media.

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