Those Flinty-Eyed Guardians of the Public Fisc Are At It Again

          Buy some experienced condemnation lawyers a couple of drinks and chances are that, as the conversation progresses, they’ll give you an earful about cases they handled in which the owners of the taken property were shortchanged by condemning agencies claiming to act in defense of the public fisc. But the courts go along with the gag, and responding to condemnors’ doomsday cries deem all sorts of condemnation-inflicted losses — some direct and some incidental — to be noncompensable. Oh sure, the courts talk a good game about justice and fairness, and about seeing to it that the condemnees are put in the same position “pecuniarily” — love thet word — they would have been in had their property not been taken, but it’s all talk. When it gets down to business one quickly learns not to rely on  these lofty but empty phrases. The California Supreme Court once explained in a moment of candor that these are “panoramic” expressions of judicial idealism that, in fact, do not represent reality, and that anyone so naive as to rely on them only displays a fundamental misunderstanding of eminent domain law. 

          But outside the field of eminent domain, it’s a whole other strory. For a current example of just how generous Uncle Sam can be when his minions aren’t in court, trying to evade the promise of the constitutionally promised “just compensation” payable to people whose property is being taken, take a look at good old TARP, the Troubled Assets Relief Program, better characterized as the Great 2008 Raid on the Treasury. Today’s Los Angeles Times reports (Associated Press, In Wall St. Bailout, U.S. Overpaid by $78 Billion, L.A. Times, Feb. 9, 2009, hidden on p. A19) that a “congressional watchdog committe” has revealed that Uncle Sam overpaid the “troubled” — love that word — recipients of his largesse by $78 billion. For example, reports the Times, “Ailing insurance giant American International Group Inc. deemed by the Treasury to be too big to be allowed to fail, received $40 billion for assets valued at $14.8 billion.” * * * ” Overall, the panel and analysts it retained to conduct the valuation study found that the Treasury Department used taxpayer money to pay $62.5 billion more than the value of assets in 10 transactions it examined.”

          So next time you hear condemnor’s lawyers going on about how the gummint just plumb can’t affort to pay your clients for all their demonstrable economic losses when it takes their property, remind them about this caper.

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