Jess S. Jackson, who just passed away at the age of 81, is best known as the producer of Kendall-Jackson wines. But before he started stomping grapes for a living, and making a name for himself as a vintner, he was a condemnation lawyer in Burlingame, California. Your faithful servant worked with him regularly on eminent domain and inverse condemnation cases before he turned to wine making. No doubt, the obituary industry will have much to say about him, his wines and his race horses, but we doubt that it will do justice to him as a condemnation lawyer who tried some of the most interesting cases.
Jess was the onliest lawyer known to us — at least in California — who actually recovered a money judgment for his client in an inverse condemnation case, on a substantive due process theory. Which, if you understand this business, you will undoubtedly rank as quite an achievement. In Herrington v. Sonoma County, 834 F.2d 1488 (9th Cir. 1988) Jess obtained a jury verdict of $2,500,600, but did so on a denial-of-due-process theory. Though the complaint included a regulatory taking claim, Jess had the wits to drop it in mid-trial and proceed to verdict on the due process claim. The Court of Appeals agreed that there was county liability but thought the damages were excessive and remanded the case for a retrial of those.
One day, Jess had an epiphany (or as a mutual friend once put it, a world-class identity crisis) and switched occupations. We worked together on some cases at the time, and one day the realization dawned that he was getting harder and harder to get ahold of on the phone. Further inquiry revealed that he was spending more time on the road, drumming wine. Legend has it that during the Reagan administration, Nancy Reagan decided to serve a California wine at a White House state dinner. Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay was chosen, and it was evidently a hit with the diners, which put Jess on the map big time. The rest, as they say, is history.
Last time Jess and your faithful servant were on a case together, was around 1990, in an inverse condemnation case in Hawaii, in which his office represented Kaiser Development Co. while we toiled in the vineyards of the Bishop Estate. It was an outrageous case in which the city of Honolulu tried to blackmail the estate out of its land in Hawai’i Kai, on pain of denying development approvals elsewhere. But the federal courts didn’t buy our arguments. Even though the city pretty much conceded that it had been routinely violating the Nollan exaction-limiting rule, the court ruled against us. You can see the opinion for yourself: Kaiser Development Co. v. Honolulu, 898 F.2d 112 (9th Cir. 1990). Although the court took about a year-and-a-half to decide the case, it produced an opinion that in its entirety takes up about a page or two, discusses none of the parties’ contentions, mentions no evidence, and after a bunch of string citations supporting respectively each side to this controversy, concludes that the trial judge was right in granting a directed defense verdict. As a knowledgeable friend put it: “This is the only opinion I have ever seen that stands for no discernible proposition of law whatever.” The court also filed a second opinion (now appearing at 913 F.3d 573) which was originally unpublished, in which it addressed some of the issues, concluding, not that our claim was bad, but that we hadn’t presented our claim “separately.” Go figure.
Anyway, the important human element of this story is that when the case was argued before the Ninth Circuit in Honolulu, the actual argument on behalf of Kaiser was delivered by Jess’s wife, Barbara Banke, while Jess sat outside the courtroom, playing with their new baby. By then his heart was evidently with his new business.
So Jess is gone. At least it would so appear. But we have a hunch that even now he may be in the process of obtaining a TRO from the Big Court in the Sky, enjoining the angel of death from interfering with his efforts in his latest venture. While he was alive, you just didn’t mess around with Jess Jackson, and we wouldn’t be surprised if he puts up a fight now.
Follow up. For another insight into Jess Jackson as an eminent domain lawyer, go to www.inversecondemnation.com and check out today’s post.
Second follow up. Our spies in the Sandwich Islands inform us that eventually the city, being unable to steal Queen’s Beach, filed a condemnation action to take it, and deposited $11.6 million — which, given values of beachfront land out there, was a joke. We are hot on the trail of information about the amount of the eventual settlement, and will pass it on as soon as we get it. Oh yes, in the process we learned that the term “Queen’s Beach” is too, too politically incorrect, so the subject property is now known as Ka Iwi.