The January 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee

 
 

National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website

 

 

In this issue:

Religious Witness with Homeless People

Memorial for Homeless Deaths in East Bay

Remember Rosa Parks: Justice in Public Transit

Justice is Pushed to Back of Bus

Big Brother Watches the Poor

Homeless Woman Works to Survive

Let Justice Roll: Raise the Miserly Minimum Wage

Richmond Courts Unfair to Poor

War Profiteer Parties Hearty

Poets Against the War Machine

Poems for the Poorman

Poems in Spirit of St. Francis

Songs of Our Shared Humanity

Psychotic Breaks

How to Deal with Pain and Fear


ARCHIVE

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October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

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April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

 

 

 


 

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The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Attorneys and Tenants Say Richmond Courts Unfair to the Poor

Eviction Defense Center speaks out against improper rulings in Richmond Superior Court

by Lynda Carson

"It is very disturbing to see how often that tenants facing eviction are not being treated fairly in the courts when they try to defend themselves." -- Anne Omura, Eviction Defense Center

Residents of Richmond, California, want to believe that their constitutional rights are upheld by the courts, including the right of poor people to have access to a jury trial. Instead, low-income tenants have found that their rights are being trampled on in the Richmond courts, and people have united to speak out against such injustices.

Queen Jackson, a tenant defending her own eviction case, is not the first person to feel like she was taken for a ride by the courts of Richmond, after the judge stripped her of her right to a jury trial when it became apparent that she was representing herself.

"I walked out of that courtroom feeling so small," said Queen Jackson. "The whole thing was so unfair, but it happened so fast, and I didn't know what to say. They really took advantage of me. It was Judge Berger that screwed me by telling me that my papers were not filed on time, which was not true."

Queen Jackson is the mother of five children, and has lived in the same residence in Richmond for the past 15 years, until she was forced to defend herself from an unlawful eviction after her residence faced foreclosure.

"Judge Berger is a very unfair person who does not give a damn about black people," said Jackson. "When I was in court, there was nothing but black people and Hispanics there facing eviction, and the judge definitely let us all know that he cared more for his wealthy friends who were evicting us, than he did about making sure that we had a fair hearing in court."

According to the Eviction Defense Center (EDC), a nonprofit law firm in Oakland, "the judge cited a local rule as grounds for taking the jury trial away from Ms. Jackson, despite having been reversed two weeks earlier by an Appellate Court for doing exactly the same thing to another eviction defendant."

Anne Omura, executive director of the EDC, said, "It is very disturbing to see how often that tenants facing eviction are not being treated fairly in the courts when they try to defend themselves."

Year after year, Richmond courts have engaged in a pattern and practice of denying poor people -- who are defending themselves in court from eviction -- their constitutional right to a trial by jury, stated the EDC in a recent press release. "These practices have gone largely unnoticed because of the class of people victimized: poor, legally unsophisticated tenants facing eviction from their homes."

Unfortunately, most of these victims lack the resources to fight the improper rulings of judges. Because of the fast track procedure of eviction through the courts, tenants do not have the time to challenge improper rulings when they occur, and the result is that the system is biased in favor of landlords.

"We have observed several instances where we believe that indigent clients in pro per were unable to pursue their constitutional right to trial by jury because of a possible misunderstanding by the local court," said Monique Doryland of the Contra Costa County Bay Area Legal Aid.
It is no secret that nonprofit legal service providers have felt frustrated for many years by these injustices occurring in the courts, because they lack the resources to challenge the judicial system when it is at its worst.

Fortunately for local tenants, action is being taken to bring an end to these unlawful practices against the poor. Oakland's Eviction Defense Center has begun to partner up with local law firms that are willing to take cases pro bono, as a way to help these victims get a fair hearing in the courts. As a result, two writs recently were granted against the Richmond Superior Court for denying poor people their right to a trial by jury.

"The abuse of the Richmond court is so rampant," Omura said, "we anticipate that there will be plenty more opportunities to file writs."

Richmond judges have unfairly denied poor people their right to a trial by jury in numerous ways, which are all contrary to procedures mandating the ways in which a jury trial may be waived. According to the EDC, "Judges improperly deny fee waivers, improperly rely on local rules, or simply refuse to act on timely filed demands for jury trial."

"Our organization has been fighting the Richmond courthouse over these issues for years," said Omura of the EDC.

Attorneys of the East Bay Tenants Bar Association have been experiencing the same problems in Richmond. "Clearly, a local rule should never trump the Constitution. Unfortunately, for the clients that we serve, the local Superior Court is the Supreme Court for them, because they do not have the time or resources to appeal bad decisions," said local tenant attorney Roxanne Romell.

Jorge Aguilar, an attorney with the EDC, estimated that there are literally hundreds of victims of these improper judicial tactics. "If the judges in Richmond think they are saving time by taking away jury trials from the poor, they should think again," said Aguilar.

Omura and Aguilar say they are determined to maintain the pressure on the Richmond courts. "Our goal is to keep filing writs until these improper practices end," said Aguilar.

As for Queen Jackson, her unlawful eviction was eventually dismissed with the help of the Eviction Defense Center and Cooley Godward LLP, and she was able to get enough time to relocate her family to a nicer neighborhood in Pinole.

The Eviction Defense Center may be reached at (510) 452-4541. Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule@yahoo.com


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