Columbia University's eminent domain case


Author: Timothy Sandefur

Damon Root at Reason magazine has a story about the Columbia University eminent domain case. (That case is scheduled for oral argument before New York's highest court on Tuesday, and I will be live-blogging it over at that day.) Writes Root:

As lead attorney and former New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Norman Siegel has been able to prove thanks to reams of documents retrieved via the state’s Freedom of Information Law, Columbia and the ESDC actively colluded in order to produce the very conditions of blight that would then allow the ESDC to seize property on the university’s behalf. This documentary record, which Siegel carefully details in the legal brief he submitted to the Court of Appeals, offers a convincing and damning portrait of government malfeasance on behalf of an elite private institution.

In 2006, for instance, the ESDC hired the planning firm Allee King Rosen & Fleming, Inc. (AKRF) to perform an “impartial” blight study of Manhattanville. Yet as internal documents later revealed, the study was explicitly designed to rubber stamp the Columbia-ESDC agenda. In its initial outline, AKRF promised to “focus on characteristics that demonstrate blight conditions” and to emphasize “highlighting any physical blight that may be present.” In other words, the purpose of the report wasn’t to objectively determine if blight conditions were present, it was to “focus” on a pre-ordained conclusion that benefitted Columbia.

And AKRF was hardly a neutral party. Not only was the firm on Columbia’s payroll at that point, but at least six different AKRF employees were working on both the blight study and the redevelopment plan—a flagrant conflict of interests. Indeed, as New York’s Appellate Division, First Department concluded in an earlier decision related to the Manhattanville expansion plan, AKRF served an “advocacy function for Columbia” and suffered an “inherent conflict in serving two masters.”

(Read the rest…)