Thursday, October 27, 2005

Recall petition filed against measure 37 judge 

Supporters of property rights have filed a petition to recall Oregon Judge Mary Mertens James, the judge who invalidated ballot measure 37 in a decision earlier this month. If petitioners gather 14,400 valid signatures of Marion County voters in the next 90 days, an election will be held in late February or early March to see if a majority of voters agree that Judge James should be removed from office.

Measure 37, which was passed by more than 60 percent of Oregon voters last November, provides that anyone whose property values have been reduced by land-use rules imposed since they purchased the property may apply for compensation or have the rules waived. Judge James rules that the measure was unfair because it treated people who purchased their property before the rules were passed differently from those who purchased it afterwards. Economically, there is a difference between these people: the ones who purchased it before expected to be able to use it in certain ways that were later proscribed by the rules, while the ones who purchased it afterwards did not expect to use it in such ways, and presumably paid less for the property.

Advocates of measure 37 say that the measure's different treatment of different property owners is no different than zoning's treatment of the owners of land on two different zones. Under Judge James' reasoning, all zoning and urban-growth boundaries should be ruled unconstitutional. Unfortuately, Oregon judges seem to have a strong prejudice in favor of zoning and planning and against property rights, so a ruling against zoning and urban-growth boundaries is unlikely.

As 61.8 percent of Marion County voters supported measure 37, recall petitioners think they have a good chance of success. As Mr. Dooley (a fictional political commentator from the nineteenth century), "The supreme court reads the 'lection returns." So a successful recall may lead other Oregon judges to take a more positive view of property rights. Still, voters may be reluctant to recall a judge simply for making an unpopular ruling.

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