Justin Hauke

When the Legislature passed HB 1944 last year (modifying existing laws related to eminent domain use), it included a provision to establish an Office of Ombudsman in order to "provide guidance for citizens about condemnation proceedings and procedures" and also to report on eminent domain use within the state.

The Ombudsman position has fallen to Anthony Martin, a 29-year-old Washington University Law School graduate with "no particular experience [in] eminent domain [law]." The Legislature envisioned the Ombudsman position as a source of information for the public on eminent domain use, not as a property rights advocate. And the fact that Martin is requesting that his position be referred to as the "Property Rights Czar," strikes me as a revealing misnomer.

Although Martin claims that he is against the use of eminent domain for private developments, I'm skeptical of how effective he can actually be in preventing such abuses. As a public official, he is unable to provide legal advice to eminent domain victims. And the fact that he is a resource for eminent domain victims may encourage further use of the practice, now that victims will receive "assistance and guidance" from the Ombudsman.

Creating the Office of the Ombudsman position is a step in the right direction, because at least it recognizes that eminent domain abuse exists, but I have to wonder — do Missouri citizens really need a "czar" to defend their rights?

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Justin Hauke