Criminal Law in Land Use

Academic Paper: Growing Trend of Criminal Prosecution of Actors In Land Use Matters

A recent paper from Professor Patti Salkin (of Law of the Land fame) and her former student Bailey Ince addresses the growing and alarming trend of criminal pitfalls in the land use law and land use entitlement context, and the accordant prosecution of actors falling into those abysses.  The paper is titled It’s a Criming Shame: Moving from Land Use Ethics to Criminalization of Behavior Leading to Permits and Other Zoning Related Acts, published this year by the Touro Law Review.

Specifically, Professor Salkin and Mr. Ince discuss how yesterday’s ethical issues in the land use context — conflicts, self-interests, ex parte behaviors, and outright corruption — are becoming today’s criminal acts:

In the past, land use ethics inquiries predominantly involved conflicts of interest or an official holding public office while engaging in a previously held business or law practice.  Now, prosecutors are looking at the underlying criminality of the unethical acts carried out in the context of land use decisions.

The paper reviews anything from bribery for land use actions and entitlements to services in exchange for rezonings to campaign contributions in exchange for permits to extortion by public officials to solicitation of bribes by public officials to expedite permit processes to theft of honest services to, even, conspiracy claims as to attorneys involved in criminal behaviors.

The paper is a keen reminder of the unique intersection between the stakes of land use decisions, the intimacy of local politics and business, the lack of sophistication threatening those without proper resources, and the growing public sentiment against graft, cronyism and corruption.

Mike Thelen practices in Womble, Carlyle’s Real Estate Litigation and Land Use practice group. He regularly represents a wide variety of clients, from local governments to businesses, in land use and land development matters in both state and federal venues throughout North Carolina.

Follow the North Carolina Land Use Litigator on Twitter at @nclanduselaw and “like” us on Facebook here.

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