Property owners are still waiting for payment for land seized through eminent domain while a county government is paying a private attorney $810,000 for litigation that is ongoing in Minnesota.
To make matters worse, the attorney’s fee is now 375 percent higher than originally estimated, Watchdog.org reported.
“We just don’t like the way we were treated and as a taxpayer to give that much money to a lawyer, that’s ridiculous,” Carver County property owner Ann Raser told Watchdog.org. “They’d have come out way better just paying people.”
Raser and her husband Tim are among a group of property owners who had land taken for an extension of County Road 11 in the Minneapolis suburbs. The Rasers sued the county after it offered them around $310,000 for nine acres. The two sides eventually settled for $615,000.
“I’ve been telling people and they just can’t even believe it,” Ann Raser said of her case. “Our biggest complaint is, they kept appealing everything. And then their lawyer, they go back and okay another $150,000 for him. We can’t believe it. We’re like, they have an open checkbook for him.”
Raser was referencing private attorney Larry Martin, who could receive up to $810,000 for his work on the case, Watchdog.com reported.
$210,000 becomes $810,000
“It’s understandable, I get it,” Carver County Attorney Mark Metz said. “People look and they see that it costs a tremendous amount of money. Unfortunately, that’s just what it costs to hire a quality private counsel. With the number of these types of cases that we had, the county had to go that route.”
Metz contended that Martin, an expert in eminent domain, was needed because of the complex nature of the case. County commissioners agreed to pay Martin legal fees not to exceed $210,000 in 2012 when the eminent domain case started, but by 2014 they had paid him $450,000.
“Sometimes, you’re left with no alternative really, but you have to go to trial and that does cost more money,” Metz said. “With Larry Martin, he’s very experienced, very knowledgeable and very good. And this project certainly had a lot more unsettled cases than we’ve typically had in the past.”
The property owners are suing because the county offered them what amounts to pennies on the dollar for their land.
The county appraised all the property involved at $845,000 while landowners valued it at $4.1 million. An independent land commissioner arrived at a price of $2.1 million.
Carl Haasken was offered $8,400 for a piece of property his expert had valued at $390,000. A jury recently awarded him $66,000 for the land. Haasken, who is an appraiser, accused Martin of employing tactics that needlessly raised the cost of the case and being unwilling to settle for reasonable amounts.
“It was clearly an adversarial position taken by the attorney representing the county trying to get the damages diminished by as far as he could, which is not the objective,” Haasken said. “The objective is to get the people a fair settlement on what their damages are, as quickly as possible.”
“Out of the 13 properties involved in the takings, they only settled one,” Haasken said. “I’ve never seen 12 out of 13 property owners have to go to condemnation hearings before.”
Like Raser, Metz blamed attorneys for the high costs.
“The eminent domain landscape has changed drastically,” Metz said. “These cases have become highly contested legal battles, with landowners hiring very specialized and knowledgeable legal counsel. Property owners are encouraged by their attorneys to seek higher and higher awards, with the promise that they may not have to pay their attorneys’ fees.”
It sounds as if eminent domain is becoming increasingly expensive for both property owners and taxpayers. Nobody wins in today’s eminent domain cases.
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