When one lives in New Jersey, one sets one's expectations accordingly. We are a people, after all, whose two pro football teams still call themselves "New York."

Whose governor responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by appointing a man he later said was his lover to be the state's adviser for homeland security.

Whose most famous mayor -- Jersey City's Frank Hague -- left office more than 60 years ago but is still remembered for having a special desk drawer he could push out like a bank teller, the easier for those sitting before him to deposit their cash. Whose . . . well, you get the point.

The point is that these aren't aberrations. These more or less represent business as usual in our beloved Garden State. So when the good guys actually win one, it's big news.

That's just what happened last Thursday. In the latest of man-bites-dog rulings from the state courts, a three-judge panel of the New Jersey Appellate Division actually sided with ordinary homeowners over a greedy local government and developer.

In their ruling, the judges unanimously reversed a lower-court decision giving the city of Long Branch a green light to pursue its redevelopment plan. That has put a serious crimp into the city's hopes for taking the homes of about a dozen longtime residents -- and turning them over to a developer to put up luxury condos in their place.

One of these homeowners is Lori Ann Vendetti. Lori owns a house here on Ocean Terrace that she rents out. But she lives just across the street with her parents in the brick house her father -- a truck driver -- built back in 1960.

For the Vendettis, this tidy little home with its front-yard ocean view represents their piece of the American Dream.

"Our houses may not be mansions," she says. "But they are our homes. And we will fight for our homes like we would fight for any family member who is sick or in trouble."

Like her neighbors, Lori has nowhere near the resources the town and the developers do.

But with the help of the Washington-based Institute for Justice -- the nation's only libertarian public interest law firm -- they are fighting back.

You might not think what is happening to the Vendettis and their friends could happen in America. And it didn't used to be this way -- at least when the "public use" provision of federal and state constitutions was understood to mean that governments could only invoke eminent domain for, say, a highway or school.

Unfortunately, expansive court rulings have allowed local politicians to take from the poor and give to the rich.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1218...ays_columnists