IJ and the Fight for Our Home

October 1, 2006

October 2006

IJ and the Fight for Our Home

By Joy E. Gamble

More than four years ago, my husband, Carl, and I sold our small grocery store and looked forward to settling into retirement in our home of 35 years. But soon after doing so, our ordinary, working-class but well-kept neighborhood was targeted for redevelopment in the form of a shopping mall, office buildings and apartments. A multi-millionaire developer, craving more multi-millions, teamed up with a heavily-in-debt City craving more tax revenue. The land-grab was on.

At first, there were about 20 people who didn’t want to sell in our neighborhood. But then the fearful words “eminent domain” were in the air. Many of those 20 couldn’t withstand the pressure and sold. The remaining ones did not want to give up, but we needed help. We found it.

At our request, the Institute for Justice came to our aid. IJ attorneys Dana Berliner and Scott Bullock visited our neighborhood and talked to the residents and our supporters, telling us that we could fight—and win!

They had formidable forces to contend with. Did that deter the Institute? Never. They saw there was an injustice afoot. A constitution needed upholding. Private property needed protecting. Into the fray.

To use eminent domain, the City needed to label us “blighted.” A paid-for-by-the-developer study put the “blight” and “deteriorating” label on us.

IJ took on our case and devoted a large investment of their resources to protecting us. A lengthy trial was held. Dana, Scott and the rest of the IJ team, including our expert witnesses, demolished the City’s arguments. Even the trial judge had to rule that our neighborhood was not blighted, but she still held that our homes could be taken because we were “deteriorating.” What a blow. But the Institute wasn’t defeated. Ever optimistic, there were no long faces or heavy hearts. They made plans to appeal.

After our defeat at the trial level, the heavy hand of government really went into action. Titles to our properties were promptly transferred to the developer, who immediately sent out eviction notices. Then came the fateful day when my husband and I were forced to flee our home or be taken out in handcuffs. We will never forget how IJ attorney Bert Gall, now a vital part of the litigation team, flew out to be with us on that sad day when the moving van arrived. We moved into the finished basement of our daughter’s home in Kentucky.

The developer, with his new-found power, was dead set on destroying our home. Frankly, my husband and I were beginning to lose hope, but IJ was not going to abandon us. Undeterred, they went straight to the Supreme Court of Ohio with the plea to save the remaining homes. The Court issued an injunction. The homes would remain standing pending our appeal. At last, a small win.

The First District Court of Appeals in Ohio, however, simply rubber-stamped what the trial judge had done. Again, defeat.

Did the Institute lose hope? Never. Against what seemed like insurmountable odds, they went back to the Ohio Supreme Court and pleaded with the justices to listen to our case in its entirety. The Court agreed.

While my husband and I were languishing in northern Kentucky, the Institute was once again hard at work—filing our legal briefs and getting other groups to file briefs in the case. On January 11, 2006, the Supreme Court of Ohio heard our case and the entire IJ team prepared for and came out for the argument. John Kramer, IJ’s vice president for communications, made sure that the media knew the importance of this case. The courtroom was packed with our supporters, reporters and cameras. The justices listened intently as Dana told them that our so-called deteriorating neighborhood was no different than millions of neighborhoods across the country.

At last, the decision. We won . . . unanimously! The Hamilton County Court was wrong. The court of appeals was wrong. And the City was wrong. We were getting our home back. A great weight was lifted off our shoulders. We didn’t go through all that for nothing. And all of the Institute for Justice’s countless briefs and filings, time and travel, and hard work were not in vain. But even more importantly, it means that all citizens in Ohio are now protected from these types of abuses. What an incredible day for justice in America!

Joy E. Gamble is an Institute for Justice client and remains a homeowner in Norwood, Ohio.

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