In the 2011 issue of Florida Super Lawyers, we profiled eminent domain lawyer Prineet Sharma, a founding partner of Harris Harris Bauerle Sharma in Orlando. He is currently lead attorney for one the largest private infrastructure projects in Florida–Florida Gas Transmission’s $2.5 billion pipeline expansion–resolving compensation claims for easements acquired from property owners. But Sharma’s typical role is representing the property owners in eminent domain cases. Here, he explains how he approaches that role:
Property is very personal. The ownership of property is probably one of the most fundamental rights that any citizen has and so when the government or a private utility seeks to take that, it is sometimes a very difficult process; it can seem complicated and daunting. I think part of being an owner’s lawyer is understanding what that owner’s feelings are about the property and the value that they think their property is worth. More than anything, sometimes communication and developing that relationship, at least in my practice, has proven to be successful because it creates trust.
For me, I’ve always taken whatever time is necessary to be on a person’s property for hours. If it’s in a case of an orange grove, walk the orange groves. If it’s in a case of a development or a manufacturing facility, spend as much time as I need to be prepared in the case–and for that owner to feel that I’ve made an investment in their case as if it were my own property.
What’s interesting [in] Florida is that because [eminent domain is] a constitutional right, whether [the property is worth] $300 or $3 million, it goes through the same process. As an attorney, I find that to be one of the most enjoyable parts of my practice–that it is a constitutional issue that has a framework of how these things are to be decided.