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State v. Siris

May 24, 1983


Haines, A.j.s.c.



The State of New Jersey acquired part of the defendant Siris' property by condemnation. Since the parties were not able to agree upon the amount of compensation to be paid by the State commissioners were appointed for that purpose. Their hearing, interrupted by a dispute concerning evidence, has never been completed. This opinion resolves that dispute.

The parties exchanged appraisal reports, as required by N.J.S.A. 20:3-12(d), prior to the hearing. The State's report identified the comparable property sales upon which it relied and provided an analysis of the adjustments used to translate that sales information into market value for the condemned property. Defendant, a broker and a dealer in real estate for 60 years, provided his own opinion of value. He did not rely on comparable sales information, contending that none was available.

At the commissioners' hearing, the State presented its engineer who described the property and outlined the State's construction plans. He was cross-examined by defense counsel and questioned by the commissioners. Defendant was present with a stenographer and Harrison L. Todd, an appraiser who was consulted by defense counsel during the hearing. Todd had not provided any appraisal of the property and was not to be a witness. Counsel for the State, after the engineering evidence had been presented, advised the commissioners that he would not call the State's appraiser, Calvin M. Schwartz. He said:

Mr. Commissioners, I'm a little disturbed about what I've been observing here this morning. Prior to the hearing I had forwarded to Mr. Brandt the appraisal report of the State's expert, Mr. Schwartz, who is here today, and I received from Mr. Brandt a one-and-a-half page statement by Mr. Siris, who is a realtor, which apparently constitutes his appraisal report. Contains no comparable sales, strictly unfounded opinion by a property owner. I also notice in the courtroom here today, Mr. Harrison Todd, who is a well known real estate appraiser in the

area, who, through the course of the testimony so far, has been conferring with Mr. Brandt. The purpose of the hearing before Commissioners is to present a case in adversary posture hoping that through a -- through an adversarial process at the Commission Hearing level, many of the cases can be disposed of. I think what can happen here today is an abuse of that process to occur.

I submit that if I present Mr. Schwartz to testify, Mr. Brandt will have a full opportunity to cross-examine him as to his opinion. Mr. Todd is here, observing, taking notes, the owner will then be in an opportunity to file an appeal from the award of Commissioners, knowing full well the State's case, having had an opportunity to fully explore the bases, the strengths and weaknesses, and to structure a reactive appraisal report, and in the process, have the State up against the wall, having given its full position at the Commission Hearing and having gotten nothing in return. And not only that, but I think it makes a mockery of the Commission Hearing process. This is not a discovery tool, it's an adversarial proceeding.

The State then offered to submit the Schwartz written appraisal to the commissioners without testimony. Defense counsel objected. The chairman of the commission ruled that the written appraisal could not be admitted without the support of the appraiser's testimony. As an alternative, the State presented William DeJoy, a case coordinator, to present the State's opinion as to value, merely a dollar figure. It was admitted the DeJoy was not an expert. The defense then stipulated the figure, objected to the procedure and announced that it would seek instructions from the court.

The dispute centers upon N.J.S.A. 20:3-12(e) which provides:

At the hearing, the condemnor shall proceed first to offer proof of the nature and extent of the taking, and its opinion of compensation payable by reason thereof.

How is this language to be interpreted? It is the State's position that it met the statutory requirement when it presented the State's dollar opinion of value through its case coordinator. Defendant reads the statute more broadly. He would require the State's expert to present his appraisal and be subject to full cross-examination. My interpretation of the statute agrees with defendant's.

In Rockaway v. Donofrio, 186 N.J. Super. 344, 352 (App.Div.1982), the court required the State's strict compliance with the provisions of N.J.S.A. ...

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