Choice Looms for New London City Council: Abide by Governor’s Call to Return Deeds to Family-Occupied Homes Or Move to Evict Homeowners

John Kramer
John Kramer · June 5, 2006

Arlington, Va—The fate of Susette Kelo and the Cristofaro family—two of the Fort Trumbull homeowners who have been at the core of the battle against eminent domain abuse—is now in the hands of the New London City Council. Tonight, the Council is expected to decide whether to abide by Conn. Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s call to return deeds to Ms. Kelo and the Cristofaros or to prolong this controversy by moving to forcibly evict them and impose back fees and rent. Both homeowners turned down settlement offers on May 31, 2006, the deadline imposed by the city council.

In a letter to New London Mayor Beth Sabilia on Friday, Gov. Rell made it clear that she supports giving deeds back to family-occupied properties, with full inheritance rights and ability to sell the homes. The City would have a right of first refusal if the owner decides to sell, something the homeowners said they support.

“The City Council faces a very clear choice this evening: abide by what the governor and the overwhelming majority of the public want by giving the deeds back to these homeowners, or prolong this crisis by moving to evict them and suing them for back rent and taxes,” said Scott Bullock, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, which continues to represent the homeowners. “These people are American heroes who should be honored, not evicted.”

“Governor Rell has said very clearly that I should have my deed back and I really hope the City Council abides by her wishes,” said Susette Kelo, the lead plaintiff in Kelo v. New London. “If the city refuses to do the right thing, my fight will continue.”

“There is simply no need to take our home,” said Mike Cristofaro, whose family has owned a home in New London for more than 30 years. “There are no plans for the area where we have agreed to move our homes and the City has plenty of land in this area to do development. We have made compromises, and so should the City.”

The other remaining property owner’s fate will be determined at a later date. The City gave Bill Von Winkle a two-week extension on its May 31 deadline in the wake of his son’s recent murder.

Due to the ongoing threat of losing his rental homes, small businessman Richard Beyer reached a settlement on Friday with the City. On the May 31 deadline, two other property owners settled with the City. Homeowner Byron Athenian settled with the City as he was not interested in relocating his house to where Susette Kelo and the rest of the homeowners are located, the only viable option aside from financial compensation being offered to the property owners. The Dery family also settled.

Matt Dery, speaking on behalf of his family, said: “My family circumstances have changed drastically since I started this battle to keep our family homes several years ago. My father is elderly and can no longer maintain his home on his own. My mother, Wilhelmina Dery, on whose behalf I was primarily fighting, passed away earlier this year. But she was able to spend the rest of her life at her home in which she had lived in her entire life. For that fact I am eternally grateful to the Institute for Justice and the many other people and organizations that have supported our fight. Even though I have reached a settlement with the City, I completely support the other homeowners in their fight to keep their homes. Moreover, I still firmly believe that what happened to me and the other property owners in Fort Trumbull was terribly wrong. No American should face the loss of their home so that other private interests may benefit.”