Case Led to Important Changes in Judicial Assignment System



The Tower Condemnation in Nashville was first discussed in this blog 2 years ago. A system in which one judge handles all the eminent domains actions is something that occurs in many jurisdictions. The true problem, all too often, is the individual handling the eminent domain has an "oar" in the water. In the Tennessee case, the oar was a very big one given the judge was related to a member of the law firm representing the community.

The one thing litigants desire is fairness. Being a good buddy with the judge or related to a judge simply skews the system in an unfair and truly unconstitutional manner.

Case led to changes

The legal battle took many twists and turns and resulted in a change in how the local courts handle eminent domain cases.

At one point it seemed like Tower had a losing hand. A jury of view, which is a special panel of real estate experts, initially ruled that the property was worth $16.5 million. And Circuit Judge Barbara Haynes, now retired, upheld that decision.

But Tower argued that Haynes was conflicted because her daughter was a partner at Miller & Martin, the local law firm hired to represent Metro. Tower also took issue with a decades-old courthouse practice of assigning all Metro eminent domain cases to the Third Circuit Court, even though eminent domain cases involving other government agencies were randomly assigned.

Presiding Judge Joe Binkley eliminated the practice of automatically sending cases to the Third Circuit, and Haynes did ultimately recuse herself. When she did, the case was randomly assigned to Binkley’s court, where a local jury ruled in 2011 that fair market value for the land was $30.4 million.