By John E. Kramer
The other night at the ballpark while listening to the trumpet call and the crowd’s responding shout of “Charge!”, my wife turned to me and said, “I love the idea of the cavalry. It’s a beautiful image . . . troops riding in at the last minute to save the day.” She imagined it must be an awesome sight to see the cavalry cresting a hill, liberating those who only moments before thought all was lost.
So often, that is our role at the Institute for Justice: to fight the seemingly lost causes; to be our clients’ cavalry.
You will find no better example of this than IJ’s recent trial in New London, Connecticut. There, the government allowed a development corporation to take seven families’ private homes and businesses so it can construct other private home and businesses in their place. (The government is using force to evict families from their land to make way for upscale housing and office buildings.) And until the Institute for Justice joined the fight in December of last year, this was, in the property owners’ own words, a hopeless fight.
Just ask property owner Matt Dery whose family has lived in the embattled Fort Trumbull neighborhood for a century. Dery recently wrote us and said, “Our home was condemned and taken from us by eminent domain on November 6, 2000. We thought that all was lost. To the uninitiated, such as we were, it appeared that the Connecticut General Statutes provided only for contesting the amount of compensation awarded in a condemnation, not the actual taking. We were resigned to losing our family homes of over 100 years. We were heading into the holiday season with heavy hearts, not knowing where we would go, or when.”
The City and the condemning authority (the New London Development Corporation or NLDC) were banking on the hope that Dery and his neighbors would not be able to find legal representation in the state, and even if they could find an attorney to take their case, the government was sure these families of modest means couldn’t muster the financial wherewithal to fight a protracted legal battle against the City, the State of Connecticut and the NLDC.
“They were right,” Dery wrote. “We could not find any law firm who was willing to take on the local powers in defense of regular citizens like us.”
So where can one turn when the government that should be most concerned with protecting your rights is the culprit violating those rights?
“Enter the Institute for Justice,” Dery wrote.
Matt, his family and his neighbors heard the hooves of IJ’s legal posse in the distance when Scott Bullock soon thereafter visited and promised IJ’s full support. Since then, we have given everything we have to save these individuals’ homes and businesses.
Dery continued, “IJ’s representation of us—thanks to the generosity of your 8,000 donors—afforded us the opportunity to stand up for not only our property rights, but those of every property owner in the State of Connecticut. The presentation of our case in court by Scott Bullock, Dana Berliner and Clark Neily was a tribute to their level of commitment and professionalism. John Kramer’s efforts to win the fight in the court of public opinion secured features in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, USA Today and National Public Radio, among other news outlets. And Maureen Blum’s community outreach helped mobilize citizens throughout New London They are truly the best legal team that money can’t buy.”
IJ riding in to the rescue didn’t please everyone, however, least of all NLDC President Claire Gaudiani. During the trial, The Day, New London’s local newspaper, reported, “There has been a media blitz by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice about the eminent domain lawsuit against the NLDC, Gaudiani said, with many stories only telling one side. The NLDC does not have the national contacts to counter the criticism, she said.”
Keep in mind this is the same Claire Gaudiani who was a media hound when she served as the former president of Connecticut College; who is the author of six books and monographs and more than 100 chapters, articles, editorials and reviews; and who participated in a conference titled, “The Media: Has the Messenger Become the Message” in which she moderated a panel featuring Washington Post Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Bernstein, ABC and Fox News Correspondent Catherine Crier, Harper’s Magazine Editor Lewis H. Lapham, Former Dow Jones & Company Chairman and Wall Street Journal Publisher Warren H. Phillips and CBS “60 Minutes” Correspondent Lesley Stahl. This is the same Claire Gaudiani who served as finance chair for Public Radio International. Perhaps all these contacts slipped her mind when she tried to make herself into the victim.
Or maybe it’s just a little tough to get sympathetic media when you are trying to evict, among other residents, an 83-year-old woman out of the only home she’s ever known.
The Battle for the Fort Trumbull Neighborhood is only one of many such skirmishes IJ’s troops happily ride headlong into on behalf of property owners whose land is being threatened, or entrepreneurs who find their right to earn a living under assault, or low-income kids who can’t get into a decent school or an ordinary citizen whose right to speak is being quashed by the government. It is indeed an awesome feeling to be part of an organization dedicated to coming to the rescue of so many good people. The next time they are in need, be assured: the IJ cavalry will ride again.
John E. Kramer is IJ’s vice president for communications.