Because of our experience, coordination and zeal for innovation, the Jackson Walker Eminent Domain team quickly, cost-effectively and successfully delivers possession to the utility irrespective of the size or nature of the client's project.
The primary initial objective for the utility client is to obtain possession of real property interests needed so that the project can be constructed and become operational consistent with the client's contractual and service commitments. At Jackson Walker, we appreciate our crucial role in this process. Soon after being hired, we formulate a dynamic plan covering all parcels involved – identifying critical path items so that progress stays on pace to achieve possession of all parcels within the client's needed timeframe. Title must be examined, surveys must be reviewed, petitions must be prepared and filed, notices must be given, possession agreements may be considered and negotiated so long as negotiations do not disturb critical path items, commissioners must be selected using the particular court's method of selection, hearings must be scheduled and conducted, and awards, and sometimes bonds, must be posted. Every project has its own peculiarities: court procedures differ throughout the state, difficulties with surveys and appraisals may be encountered, interactions with landowners vary, opposing counsel have schedules and approaches that must be addressed, and the schedules and preferences of court-selected commissioners must be accommodated. We understand and manage these and other variables so that possession is timely delivered on all types of utility projects. For example, we recently delivered possession, in roughly 100 days, on a project of approximately 100 contested condemnations located in two counties.
Obtaining possession of numerous unique property interests on time and in a cost-effective manner requires organization, professional perseverance and constant communication. At Jackson Walker, we first identify one person to oversee the day-to-day activities of bringing all acquisitions to completion. This coordinator works with other attorneys and paralegals to ensure that tasks are being accomplished and potential problems are quickly identified and solved. As an example, title examination may reveal that a specific parcel is encumbered with numerous liens. The issue is then assigned to an available team member to research the liens and either obtain consents or subordinations or involve the lienholders in the proceeding. Perseverance persists. A project plan is prepared and continually updated.
In addition to day-to-day contact with our clients, we hold weekly team meetings. Workforce needs are adjusted so that critical path objectives are not sacrificed. And throughout this process, we have learned that real-time communication with our client's representatives is crucial. In addition to normal means of communication, for projects involving numerous parcels, Jackson Walker creates an ExtraNet site for the project. The site is updated daily. Through it, client representatives can access the current status of every acquisition – obtaining information about what has been scheduled, learning the identity of the appointed Special Commissioners, reading and printing filed copies of petitions, obtaining summaries of the reports of the appraisers or printing the actual reports, and analyzing the progress of the overall project. Not only does the ExtraNet expedite progress; it simultaneously reduces expenses by virtually eliminating client, lawyer and paralegal time on the retrieval and exchange of basic but important project information.
Success means not only timely possession, but also compensation which is fair and just to the landowner. We do not wait until a Special Commissioners' hearing is set before preparing for the hearing. Once the circumstances of a particular case are known and probable contested issues are identified, we begin assembling evidence for the hearing. At each hearing, we routinely use PowerPoint and Google Earth imagery to educate the panel about the project, the landowner's property, the surrounding properties and the marketplace. Well in advance of a scheduled hearing, we begin assembling aerial imagery, photography, conveyance instruments, surveys, project graphics, flood plain and contour maps, sales data and the like. Typically, by the time a hearing date is known, initial PowerPoint and Google Earth presentations are ready to be fine-tuned. In addition, we obtain evidence from the appraiser and other expert witnesses, such as land planners and engineers, and we make decisions about how best to present the work product of the experts to the Special Commissioners. In sum, the Jackson Walker Eminent Domain team knows that the combination of advance planning and use of the best available technological resources, plus experienced advocacy and trial skills achieves success.
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