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Some Good News Out of Court Lately [Up Against the Wall]

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Finally, a few correct court decisions. It’s about time.

First, out of the U.S. Supreme Court, a big thank you to George Sheetz who sued a county in California over excessive “traffic impact” fees that the county demanded. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in an unusual 9-0 vote (wow!) that local and state governments can’t charge excessive fees that are out of alignment (have no nexus) with the property.

A prime example of the impact of this case is Middleton, which keeps trying to force our development to pay for a two-mile-long regional water main that would serve numerous properties or a regional sewer lift station that would do the same.

Another example is when the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District tried to force us to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for an adjacent golf course that didn’t need or want sewer service and that we didn’t own – or a local government that tried to insist we pay 100% of the cost of a traffic signal at an intersection where we cause very little traffic.

I also give credit to federal judge William Conley, who sentenced the office bomber in Madison to 7.5 years in prison for throwing a fire bomb into a pro-life organization’s office out by the airport. I know the owner of the building, and I had commented last year that I doubted that the DA and court system here would ever prosecute the offender. Well, I was proven wrong, and am I happy about that. He was charged federally.

Another good ruling was by another federal judge, Judge James Peterson, who ruled that two DNR employees violated the free speech rights of a volunteer group – Friends of Blue Mounds State Park. The judicial order says, “It is DECLARED that defendants Steven Schmelzer and Melissa VanLanduyt violated the Friends group’s rights under the First Amendment and the Wisconsin Constitution by threatening to terminate the Friends group’s agreement with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for filing a lawsuit challenging the department’s proposed construction of a snowmobile trail.”

Frankly, as a result of the the judge’s decision, these two employees should be fired, but unfortunately, with this state administration, there will likely be no consequences.

That’s how crazy some government employees are these days. My own example – a number of years ago, a DNR employee allegedly refused to grant a permit for a project of ours in Verona to the contractor for road construction. This involved installing mufflers on their construction equipment at a cost of about $1 million. Note that the legislature considered a law requiring this, but rejected it twice. So we got a lawyer and the road builders association involved.

Another example – As part of taking down the 131 East Wilson Street building (where Paisan’s was located), the city of Madison agreed to grant us the immunity idol, err, I mean, an immunity letter saying that the city would not sue us, or fine us or threaten us if we stepped in and bought the building and took the building down. We didn’t want the city threatening us with building code violations after we became the owners. So we did close, and we took the building down. The next step in the demolition is removal of the parking ramp, but we can’t just do that immediately because if we did, the adjacent land would collapse into the excavation hole.

As a result of this kind of process, the city actually threatened to fine us if we didn’t immediately remove the underground parking ramp – in spite of our immunity agreement!! Holy punch in the gut batman.

I could give you many dozens of stories of government employees overstepping their authority.  But one thing I’ve noticed over 40 years of development is that local and state employees feel very free to violate our rights when there is a Democrat governor in office, because they know there are no consequences to them, so they push the envelope. Believe me, when there is a Republican governor, they are much more careful and cautious about stepping on our rights.

It’s all about the culture that each governor or mayor creates. Right now we have leaders at all levels of government, especially in Washington, in which they have signaled to their employees that it’s okay to trample on the rights of Americans. In fact, it’s like a game to them. And right now, the only thing standing in their way is the U.S. Supreme Court or the occasional law abiding federal court judge.

It’s really sad that we live in a third world country now where we don’t have any rights, and to enforce our rights we have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and years in court to hopefully get our rights enforced, only to get back to square one where we should have been in the first place without having to go to court.

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