IJ clients Carl and Joy Gamble have lived in their home in Norwood, Ohio, for 35 years. It is the first and only home they’ve ever owned—the place where they raised their family and hope to spend the rest of their lives. It is their piece of the American Dream.
But in February, in one of the most heartless examples of eminent domain abuse nationwide, the Gambles were forced to hurriedly pack all their possessions and leave their home. That’s because Norwood’s mayor and city council have used the power of eminent domain to give the Gambles’ home to Jeffrey Anderson, a private developer with more than $500,000,000 in assets, so that he can tear it down and build a high-end shopping center. Forced from their home in the middle of winter, the Gambles temporarily have taken up residence in their daughter’s finished basement in Kentucky.
Even though they are appealing a trial court’s decision that allowed this unconstitutional land grab, Anderson told the Gambles they had to leave. Anderson’s attorney stated that if the Gambles were still in their home on February 2, “[they] will be deemed trespassers and their personal property will be deemed abandoned.” The trial court issued a “writ of possession,” which allowed Anderson and the City to force the Gambles out at any time. Anderson refused to tell them exactly when that would happen. Thus, the Gambles—who could not live under siege, waiting for a knock on the door from the sheriff—had no choice but to make the gut-wrenching decision to pack up and leave. Worse yet, once they left, unless IJ secured court protection, Anderson could have sent in the bulldozers to demolish their home before the courts ever heard their appeal.
On February 3 and 4, IJ Vice President John Kramer and I traveled to Cincinnati to give the Gambles moral support as the movers carted off the bulk of their possessions and took them to a storage facility. The ordeal of being forced from their home drained the Gambles, both physically and mentally. As Joy said, “I can’t bear the thought of leaving. Our family built so many happy memories in this place, and now Mr. Anderson could destroy it before our appeal can be heard. We hope that we have a home to come back to when we win our appeal.”
As I spent time with the Gambles during one of the worst weeks in their lives, I wished that every person who has defended the use of eminent domain for the benefit of private parties—and unfortunately, there are far too many of them in local governments across the country, not just Norwood—could actually see the real human tragedy that happens when people are forced from their homes. The abuse of eminent domain isn’t just unconstitutional; it’s morally reprehensible. All it takes to understand that is to watch a family like the Gambles being forced from their home so that a private developer can make more money—and to see movers empty out room after room in a home that is so full of precious memories.
The Gambles braved the move with courage, dignity and determination that is both amazing and inspiring. Despite the tragedy they were enduring, the Gambles vowed to continue fighting to save their home. Joy said, “Make no mistake: we’re not giving up the fight, and we intend to get our home back.” Carl added, “We want to make sure that something like this can’t happen to anyone else.”
Fortunately, just over two weeks after their move, the Gambles got some much-needed help from Ohio’s highest court. On February 22—the same day that IJ was arguing the Kelo eminent domain case before the U.S. Supreme Court—the Ohio Supreme Court issued an order that temporarily prevents Anderson from destroying the Gambles’ home. On April 18, IJ will argue the Gambles’ appeal of the trial-court decision that allowed Norwood’s and Anderson’s unconstitutional land grab before the Hamilton County Court of Appeals. If we prevail, the Gambles could soon have another moving day. Unlike the one they’ve just endured, however, that moving day will be a joyous one because they’ll be moving back into their home. Everyone at IJ will continue to fight to make that happen.