Railroad May Use Eminent Domain Power

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which is the  state agency that runs the Amtrak Downeaster train, is looking to acquire land in Portland to build a service building.   The Portland Press Herald reports that the owner of the land does not want to sell the land because they have future plans for a residential development on the site, and the building would be incompatible.

The Authority has the power to invoke eminent domain through the Passenger Rail Service Act.  It seems unlikely that the property owner will be able to prevent the taking of the land, but there will certainly be a dispute over the value of the land.  The owner of any land that is taken by the State must be compensated, but the actual amount of compensation is often highly disputed.

Currently the land, known as Thompson’s Point, is used mainly for industrial type businesses, though its location does suggest potential for residential development.  The Authority will argue that compensation should be limited since they are only taking a small piece of  the land.  The owner’s concern is that the structure will be right next to the road that is the only access to the rest of the property, therefore impacting the value of the entire property.  However, the law only considers property taken if it is actually acquired, or it loses all economic value.  So even if the land the Autority takes is valued as residential property, only the amount of land actually taken for the building will be compensated for.

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Indigent Legal Defense Changes Proposed

The Bangor Daily News covers the proposed changes to the way indigent criminal defendants are provided legal assistance. The proposal calls for an independent commission to oversee the legal services for indigent defendants, something the State’s Judicial Branch now does. The full report on the proposal is available here.

A growing percentage of criminal defendants, the report concluded, are indigent and entitled to free representation. In fiscal year 2008, 42 percent of all juvenile defendants and 61 percent of all Superior Court defendants qualified for indigent legal services.

In addition, the number of cases in Superior Court, where felony charges are filed, grew nearly 20 percent from fiscal year 2007 to fiscal year 2008. That increase primarily was due to recent changes by the Legislature to the criminal code that turned crimes that previously were misdemeanors and did not require jail time into felonies based on prior convictions or aggravating factors.