New York is one of three states in the Union that does not provide for jury trials in eminent domain cases. All of our trials are by the court. But New York’s Eminent Domain Procedure Law does provide a very important provision: the judicial view. Section 510 of the EDPL states:
(A) The trial court shall view the property in all claims, unless waived by stipulation of the parties. The parties to the suit or claim, may attend the viewing by the court at a time scheduled by the court.
(B) When the property or improvements acquired are to be removed, razed, or obliterated prior to trial, any party may make a request to the presiding judge of the Court of Claims or an administrative justice of the Supreme Court of the judicial department in which the property is located, that a trial judge or justice be assigned to view the subject premises prior to removal or demolition. When practicable the judge or justice viewing property shall be assigned to the trial.
Notice that the judicial view is mandatory for the judge trying the case, but not for the attorneys. But, it would be very foolish for trial counsel not to accompany the judge on the view. The judicial view is not for legal argument or comment, but the judge may have some questions that the attorney can assist with. It is also good practice to have the former owner present and, perhaps, the appraiser or other expert as well, in case there are factual questions that arise during the view.
The requirement for the judicial view has long been a fabric of condemnation law, dating back to when eminent domain claims were tried by appointed Commissioners. All Commissioners had to view the property or the award was defective. Matter of Bronx Parkway Com., 109 Misc. 517 (1932). Indeed, there is authority that a trial court may not make an award until it views the premises. International Salt Co. v State of New York, 125 Misc2d 939 (1984).
The judicial view helps the Court understand the issues and brings the property to life. The Court can now relate to the property dimensionally rather than viewing it through a mere photograph in an appraisal. It also helps put the property and neighborhood in context.
What follows are photographs taken on July 1, 2014 of the judicial view with the Honorable Shlomo Hagler, Justice of the Supreme Court, New York County, in the NYS Urban Development Condemnation for Columbia University, Manhattan.