Free legal help for San Luis Obispo homeless

March 26, 2012

Stew Jenkins talks with potential homeless clients

By KAREN VELIE

In an attempt to help homeless subjected to heavy fines from San Luis Obispo police for sleeping in their vehicles, attorneys Stew Jenkins and Saro Rizzo  are working pro bono to stop what they see as illegal enforcement.

At the behest of Prado Road business owners, police wake up homeless sleeping in their cars and hand them $450 a shot tickets four or five times a month. Several homeless unable to keep up with the fines and the $50 a day in late fees, serve time in the San Luis Obispo County Jail to cover their debt.

Jenkin’s concerns — and actions the city could take to remedy the issue — were spelled out in a letter he sent to city council members last week.

City Attorney Christine Dietrick said she believes the city’s ordinance is legal and will withstand a challenge.

Jenkins and Rizzo contend the current implementation of the ordinance is in violation of California law and both the California and U.S. Constitutions, because it criminalizes human existence.

On Thursday morning, at the San Luis Obispo Superior Court courtroom at the Veteran’s Hall, Rizzo and Jenkins represented several homeless and were successful at having their cases delayed while they work on filing a lawsuit against the city.

“When we showed up we asked if anyone there who was homeless needed help because of being ticketed for parking and we ended up with eight people,” Jenkins said. “It was obvious that the city’s ordinance is burdening an already overtaxed court system. All the seats were full and there were people waiting to be heard sitting along the aisles all the way to the counsel table.”

On Friday afternoon, Jenkins and Rizzo set up a table behind the statue of the Indian on the corner of Prado Road and Higuera Street where they met more than a dozen homeless to discuss their tickets.

Rizzo and Jenkins plan to file a lawsuit that will force the city to suspend its sleeping vehicle ordinance, dismiss pending citations, expunge convictions and return fines to all of the homeless its officers have ticketed since November.


19 Comments

  1. oto says:

    After the Bureau of Audits stepped up to the plate and audited the Administrative Office of the Courts, it discovered miserable oversight of the operating funds it receives from the State’s General Fund as well as other “special funds” allocated to operate superior courts in California’s 58 counties.

    Among other things, it found that the AOC was unable to accurately identify amounts it had “in reserve,” or what it actually spent on the development of its “new” statewide case management system. That system, which the AOC claimed would “streamline the courts, save money, and enhance public access,” was approved for funding at what the AOC claimed would cost a mere 30 million dollars.

    That was 2003. In 2011, after the Audit came out, the Legislative Analyst’s Office did some number crunching of their own and found that, as of 2009, the courts had spent 400 million dollars on it in two years, while feeding false information to the Legislature and Governor’s Office to keep the money pouring in.

    The same year, the estimated timeline for completion of the project had shifted from 2009 to 2015, and the cost estimate–(now based upon what the AOC had spent thus far)–was recalculated to be 1.9 BILLION.

    As of 2011, the LAO estimates the cost to complete the unification of the state courts’ computer systems, and then connect them with the state’s social services and law enforcement computer systems will end up costing the taxpayers 3.5 BILLION dollars.

    When the legislators, the Governor’s office and the LAO realized they had been deprived of the actual records of cost overruns and waste by the state’s judicial administration, it added “trailer” bills to the 1997 Trial Court Funding Act that would increase accountability of the AOC to account for where the money was going, what portion of it had been spent, and what had been squirrelled away by individual courts.

    How did it plan to hold the courts accountable for their spending spree? By reducing money coming to it from the state’s General Fund, and shifting responsibility to the counties rather than the state to pay for security for the courts. That way, the courts would not have to pay for security from their own funds, but they could still have control over the level of security and the amount paid for it by changing exisiting state law to allow private companies to bid on a contract to provide court security–and to make the bidding process public.

    As of 2011, the law permitted only sheriffs departments to bid on these contracts and to provide court security.

    In order to soften the blow to the judiciary that their spending now needed to conform to the MINIMUM standards which other state agencies had to adhere to, and that their budget would have to be reduced, the state agreed to give them ALL the money which had previously been held in trust for the use of the state’s redevelopment agencies.

    I think that must have been the reason California’s redevelopment agencies were axed by Governor Brown. The Courts needed more and more money and the state was, once again, “in a financial crisis.” But apparently not in enough of a crisis to put a cap on the local judiciary’s desire to add MORE benefits to their existing benefits.

    Finally, everyone with a union job decided the courts should fill the void left by any reductions to its budget by increasing civil and criminal fees, fines, penalties, and the cost of court reporter transcripts to cover any “shortfall” in the superior courts’ spending habits.

    In summary, homeless people are targeted for these “assessments” because they are the least likely to maintain a lengthy court defense–even when they are innocent of the charges and not deserving of the fine.

    While the poor are threatened with fines that far exceed the statutory amount, our county judges continue to swap real estate amongst their colleagues without filing conflict of interest statements mandated by the court rules. Prosecutors continue to get “finders fees” from real estate developer/brokers when the property ends up in foreclosure proceedings before the “bench.”

    The state’s taxpayers have the dubious distinction of paying more and more for a technological system that is becoming more like Hilter’s version of the “unified state.”

    There are only two ways out of this cycle of local intimidation under color of “authority:” you can fight physically, or you can fall into the bottomless pit of bureaucratic rules, regulations and laws. To each his own, and more power to him who fights a malicious and corrupt authority.

    That being said, here are some basic peices of information you need to get no matter which bureaucrat you have an issue with:

    1. Get his full name.
    2. Get his actual employment title, e.g., lieutenant, sargeant, captain, watch commander, or
    Director of Superior Court Civil Operations,
    General Counsel for the County of San Luis Obispo,
    Chief Judge of the Superior Court, etc.

    These are examples of titles of employment.
    Why are they important?
    Because each title reveals the duties, responsibilities and LIABILITIES for abuse of such authority.

    3. Get the address of the employee’s place of ususal business. This is a matter of public record because that is where you send the SUMMONS AND COMPLAINT or COUNTERCLAIM (if you want to sue on a civil claim because it is you who have been wronged.)

    4. If you lack the resources to sue the person who has deprived you of your basic constitutional right to live in peace and quiet enjoyment, and the right to be free from unlawful police intrusion into the sanctity of your living space, then make sure everyone knows what has been done to you.

    5. If you can’t document the details of police harassment, because you are not much of a writer, then get a tape recorder, find a quiet space and talk into it like you were talking to your friend and let it all come out. Even if 90 per cent of what you say is the result of being angry or hurt, there will be nuggets of gold in the form of facts remembered and recorded, and legal issues identified upon which you can win a case–even though you may not recognize it as a legal issue worthy of victory.

    6. Try to find at least one other person who you can keep communication with, and who will be your witness.

    Just because you are at a disadvantage, does not necessarily mean you are wrong, or that you will lose your particular battle. Fight in a way that will be to your best advantage.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  2. Paperboys says:

    Good luck getting these people a refund. That ain’t gonna happen, no way, no how.
    The cops will continue to write tickets so long as citizens continue to complain. Each and every one of these tickets started out as a complaint by a citizen. The police simply can’t stop answering calls for service.
    SLO indeed has a lot of people who are truly down on their luck and in need of help, and deserving as well.
    But every morning by about 10, calls start coming in from all over town about drunken homeless people making a nuisance of themselves, shoplifting, aggressive panhandling, picking fights, crapping and pissing in parking lots (at the Children’s Museum no less), loitering in front of or even inside a business and chasing away customers, the list could go on and on.
    But how do you cull the needy and deserving from the degenerates who are more interested in getitng drunk and high than improving their lives?
    That is the big question and if someone could actually figure that out, what then do you do about the ones that are left? The ones who are where they are because they are truly pieces of sh**?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 4

    • dactoman says:

      I worked at Maxine Lewis homeless shelter for over 3 years as a volunteer and I now voulenter at Transitions Mental Health Association. I can tell you most of the people people causing the problems are mentaly ill and either need mental health help or need to be in an institution. Well that being said old Ronny Regan shut down most of the mental hospitals in California and put all those people on the streets and with the cuts in our county mental health you better get used to more of the same!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 3

    • When did human beings become “pieces of sh**?” What a mean, hateful society we live in.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 9

      • OnTheOtherHand says:

        I agree that many of the problems are caused by people who have mental health problems and that many homeless are also people who have just run into bad luck (often health related but layoffs combined with obsolete skill sets too). However, if you haven’t run into anyone who could reasonably be described as a “piece of sh**”, you are just lucky. I have had the misfortune to run into 3 such individuals within the past 6 years. All had drug problems although one may have had a mental health issue as well.

        The economic headaches of dealing with them can be significant but are nothing compared to the constant stress of having to watch your back. (It’s like combat without guns.) Try living around someone who looks for any chance to get “revenge” that they think they can get away with simply because you call them on BS behavior. Try doing that when you have to work or are otherwise away from your residence during the day and they have all the time in the world to do whatever strikes their warped fancy. They are “street-wise” enough to usually know what they can successfully pull and what you can’t do to them without running afoul of the law.

        Some of these “people” do have problems that are beyond the ability of a community to correct and the urge to dismiss them as “sub-human” with an epithet is not without cause. The first question is: “How can we deal with those who will benefit from help without wasting our efforts on the manipulative sociopaths that deserve to be either run out of town or thrown behind bars?” The second is “Where do we get the money to help those who will benefit from it?” The final question is: “Will offering too much help simply draw in more people with problems from elsewhere until we go broke trying to do the right thing.”

        (I don’t live in SLO City but the problems aren’t unique to SLO.)

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

        • dactoman says:

          The US spends over a trillion dollars a year on the biggest war machine the world has ever seen! Lots of o”s lots of people could be helped rether than lining the pockets of the defence industry.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

      • cheseburger says:

        Best truth on the blog my hat is off to you from the chese!

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

    • cheseburger says:

      “You would tend to shoot them all and let GOD sort them out?”
      But the drunks picking fights and punching little girls?? This would never of happened here in the old days, we policed ourselves the way it should be, you see some one doing bad either call it in or handle it , determined by how much time you have, the guy who punched the little girl, had I been there he would of accidently fell on the concrete curb exiting “all” not a few of his teeth, now you old geezers get a cane and start taking care of business.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  3. Maxfusion says:

    Wow, the city charges 4055.55% interest per year on a $450 dollar fine. Just like the “evil”corporations. What if you don’t pay? You go to the government debtors prison. Think we don’t have debtors prisons? Tell the IRS to pack sand and see where they send you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 5

    • Slowerfaster says:

      For one time, I agree with you…at least in some measure.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 7

  4. Pizmo says:

    Very nice of SLO to give the homeless-by-choice free parking, free legal help, free food.

    SLO is determined to be a mecca for people who choose not to work. As word continues to get out about the freebies, downtown SLO is slowly being taken over by aggressive beggars. Last week I was accosted six times in a short period of time. Good luck finding a bench to sit on. It’s gotten to the point where I and other people that I know avoid downtown all together.

    I will continue to give money to local shelters who do a great job giving people temporary assistance. There are many organizations that do wonderful work. I just will never understand people who can’t tell the difference between the truly homeless families that are trying to find work Vs. the drunks and addicts that have no interest in doing anything except getting high and begging for money.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 20

    • Slowerfaster says:

      I had a friend ( key word: HAD ) who had been a brilliant professional. A landscape architect. He designed parks and many golf courses that were camouflaged to look like parks.

      Then, he developed a health condition that semi-incapacitated him. We never discussed it much, but I think it was a series of strokes …that were so small at first that he nor anyone else noticed it much.

      One-by-one, employers…clients, and family abandoned him.
      I would see him around town and share conversation…and at times food, but mostly just coffee. I ( and other friends ) never suspected he was living under a railroad viaduct.
      Then, the railroad decided to dismantle the old overpass.

      My friend dissappeared, but I ran into him a few months later. The railroad turned him over to the County. He had committed NO crimes…just had no money and no place to stay. The County social workers got him into an infamous ROACH MOTEL that would not pass muster for tourists or anyone else. But at least it was out of the weather.

      I ran into my friend just on happenstance. He was humble as always, but not happy that it was at least a FIVE MILE WALK to the closest store. He was not complaining, just kind of wistful.
      Then winter hit. Three months later, this pesrson of notabl accomplishments was found in a snowbank.

      ..Now don’t get me wrong..some of the aggressive ‘homeless’ are just lazy bums, wasterels, and criminals. I don’t excuse their bad behavior…and those that should be incarcerated SHOULD BE.
      BUT, there are MANY people at risk that are homeless because of things BEYOND THEIR CONTROL.
      Sometimes, it is their mental condition ( hard to call it ‘health’) that makes them virtually unemployable. Most of this type WOULD work if given the opportunity, and many do. Too many end up on a revolving door of employed ( and often exploited ) for a probationary period, then let go.

      This is why a DECENT, UNIVERSAL system utilizes CASE WORKERS. People that have the EDUCATION and TRAINING to seperate the wheat from the chaff.

      We NEED to get back to that !

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 8

    • Russ J says:

      Careful Pizmo – your rational comment might draw the ire of ted salamander. You don’t sound Christian enough.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 7

    • OnTheOtherHand says:

      Pizmo,

      It is not always as easy to tell the difference as you might think. Some druggies are not stupid people, they just can’t escape their addictions. (I suspect that this is a genetic personality trait.) The problem is that they can very convincingly hide their addiction or disguise it as more “acceptable” problems (like bipolar disorder, alcoholism or ?) Often only prolonged exposure to them will reveal it to most ordinary people. I have encountered at least 3 meth users that had me fooled upon initial contact. One showed her colors quickly but it took several weeks for another and months for the last one before I figured out they had incurable addictions.

      I share your concern about wasting resources helping those who won’t benefit from it but I have no simple solutions to offer that would prevent that without penalizing those whose misfortune is not of their own making. I am glad you are supporting local shelters — they do try even though they have their failures too.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  5. whatdouno says:

    Great work by Rizzo and Jenkins. Unbelievable that people can be so selfish and the City so cruel. If these folks had $450 they wouldn’t be parking on the street. We live on a street that almost everyone has at least three vehicles so there is no street parking, otherwise; yes we would let them park in front of our house. We have brought people to our home on occasion to feed and shower and assure you we are none the worse for it!

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 21 Thumb down 18

    • Slowerfaster says:

      Bless you !
      Jesus is SMILING from the Heavens !

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 8

      • Slowerfaster says:

        Who in HELL’s Everlasting DAMNATION would EVER Dislike Jesus’s happy smiling while jumping on a pogo stick ?

        Only SATAN HIMSELF !

        Yes ..it is Lucifer incarnated that condemns such HOLY WRIT from yours truly and Brother Slanders.

        ALLELUJAH !

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 8

  6. Robert1 says:

    Go park by Rizo’s family restaurant or his and Jenkins homes and see how interested they are then.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 23 Thumb down 31

    • Slowerfaster says:

      You cannot even write the name correct !
      You HAVE to be a demi-DEMON …RAISED from HELL itself to confuse and confound US HOLY WARRIORS !

      WE got YOUR number…Mister ROBERT…sent from HELL to confuse.

      We KNIGHTS of CHRIST are Now UNITED to confront YOUR darkness !

      Go MEET your DOOM !

      Shala-ma Lecham !

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 8

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