Homeless lawyers seek legal fees for constitutional complaint

October 9, 2012

Stew Jenkins talks with homeless clients

By KAREN VELIE

The two lawyers who sued the city of San Luis Obispo for unconstitutional treatment of the homeless are seeking $148,727 in legal fees from the city for the civil case.

In April, attorneys Saro Rizzo and Stew Jenkins filed a lawsuit accusing the city of San Luis Obispo and its chief of police of discrimination, harassment and the criminalization of homeless people. Following a decision by a superior court judge that the city’s treatment of the homeless was unconstitutional, the San Luis Obispo City Council agreed to dismiss all tickets given this year to homeless residents for sleeping in their vehicles.

Laws permit attorneys who undertake cases on behalf of the poor and downtrodden to request attorney’s fees if they win the case. If they lose, they would get nothing.

At a rate of $350 an hour, Rizzo and Jenkins have calculated their fees for the civil case at $148,727.

Both Rizzo and Jenkins donated their services while defending their clients in the criminal matters related to sleeping in vehicles, which at $350 an hour would come to approximately $60,000, and they are not requesting reimbursement.

Three local attorneys, Babak Naficy, David Fisher and Michael Blank, submitted declarations to the court asking for approval of the fees.

“The importance of due process rights established by the work of Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Rizzo in this case for all citizens using city streets cannot be underestimated,” Fisher says in his declaration.

Michael Blank is the directing attorney for California Rural Legal Assistance in San Luis Obispo, a group with a mission to fight for justice and individual rights.

“I believe that Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Rizzo have, by bringing this proceeding, made a significant contribution to helping the city of San Luis Obispo (and the surrounding communities who have followed this case) take significant steps toward becoming a community where all people are treated with dignity and respect, and guaranteed their fundamental rights,”  Blank says in his declaration.

City officials have said they will oppose the request for attorney’s fees. San Luis Obispo City Councilman John Ashbaugh said on Sept. 27 on the Dave Congalton show that the city would fight against paying fees related to the homeless lawsuits. He also claimed that Jenkins and Rizzo filed the lawsuit without first attempting to discuss the ordinance with the city.

However, Jenkins and Rizzo did attempt to work with the city before filing their suit.

On March 19, Jenkins asked the council to suspend its sleeping vehicle ordinance, dismiss pending citations, expunge convictions and return fines because of legal issues with the wording of the ordinance.

The next day, during a March 20 council meeting, City Attorney Christine Dietrick said that the city expected to beat any challenges noting that this type of ordinance was facially (on face not application) upheld in another case. Council members agreed with her and voiced their approval of the nightly raids.

Last month, again amid allegations by Jenkins that city staff’s proposed plan to stop homeless from sleeping in their vehicles could have legal ramifications, city Attorney Christine Dietrick said she stood behind the legality of the new ordinance and saw no reason to delay a vote while the it is reworked to correct the issues Jenkins pointed out.

The council voted 3-2 to approve the new ordinance without further review. Councilwoman Kathy Smith and Councilman Dan Carpenter dissented.

When asked by Dave Congalton if he supports Dietrick and agrees with her legal advice on the homeless ordinances, Ashbaugh said, “Absolutely, she is amazing.”

San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall will hear arguments for and against the payment of attorney fees on Oct. 25 at 9 a.m.

Crandall is the same judge who in July ruled that San Luis Obispo’s treatment of the homeless was unconstitutional and barred police from ticketing people for sleeping in their vehicles.

Dietrick responded by calling Crandall’s decision “judicial misinterpretation.”

The city council agreed, “overruled” Crandall and rewrote the ordinance.

 


34 Comments

  1. JB Bronson says:

    Lawyers like this, are in it for the pot of money at the end of their efforts. They are not primarily interested in the social impact of their work, or contributing to solving the main issue.

    They are often legends in their own minds and can easily justify what they do that appears community oriented to start with, but ends up being about how much we owe them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 18

  2. leatherpink says:

    Stew Jenkins and Saro Rizzo are telling homeless people to move to San Luis Obispo and get your free breakfast, lunch, dinner, easy to deal with police department and easy panhandling SLO residential folks. Already Steward Jenkins is in ripoff report online as people have made complaints about him extorting fees out of the City, these lawyers are crooks. Are they are doing is finding extra income for taxpayers to fix a problem this is no fix. If we go Steward Jenkins & Saro Rizzo (owner of Rizzo’s Italian restaurant over at the Rail Road Station).

    And for lawyers Babak Naficy, David Fisher and Michael Blank, shame on you. Talk about greed!

    It was 3 weeks ago, we had a homeless couple who had no vehicle bought a mile worth of junk who had been illegally camping on our commercial property over 3 weeks unknowingly until we discovered it and the crimes around it. So much stuff in a hide to find place near the Orcutt homeless Shelter, we found porno magazines, lots of different name prescription pain killers (looked stolen), crack and a crack pipe, lot of sex toys, probation papers, lots of stolen drug store stuff and loads of 1980′s clothes all piled up in a tent that smelt full of urine and worse; plus beer bottles everywhere. Everything went in the trash and was reported to the Police.

    It comes that this is the going problem for business owners like myself having people illegally camping on their properties stealing water, using our property as a toilet and a place to make a drinking holiday in evening hours then get up to have your free breakfast at the Orcutt Homeless shelter around the corner and when done, then go to Meadow Park to have nothing to do all day till 5 o’clock to head right back to the Orcutt Homeless shelter to do the same thing the next and the next day. Meadow Park is destroyed, the homeless have saturated themselves there using the public restrooms as showers and place to drink and go the bathroom. I have taken pictures for the City Council & Police Department to show the people parking in their vehicles who sleep in the campers in McMillan street (around the corner from the Orcutt Homeless Shelter) parking in the Meadow Park parking lot between 7am till 5pm, same people every day. Every one of them is hanging out by choice. Nobody is looking for a job but really a Grateful Dead Festival, hang out and drink seven days a week, same people same place same time, come on and hangout and get drunk. Was once a park for children has scared the families away due to these “Have Nots and Will Nots” homeless people.

    I have learned that these people are coming from Ohio, Florida all over from the East Coast to drive to San Luis Obispo for the one purpose to live here for free. They call San Luis Obispo “easy street” because they say San Luis folks are easy to panhandle to, to get money out of them and the cops are easy to deal with because they are not hard enough on them. That’s why you see the homeless aggression downtown for aggressive panhandlers who belittle the SLO residents if they do not give them money. See a homeless guy sitting on a bench downtown drinking out of a paper bag, cop comes by makes him pour it out, cop leaves, homeless guy pulls out another hard liquor bottle as if he was just told to stop but continues because they cop did nothing, he should of arrested him and gave him community work.

    I would like to see Oprah Winfrey visit San Luis Obispo since 20010 and see how happy San Luis Obispo is doing now? I see it we San Luis Obispo resident taxpayers are now; we’re all screwed with this homeless mess.

    I make a pledge we fire this Dee Torres, she is part of the problem. She is inviting these people over here and ordinances of homeless needs to get more enforcement, period. San Luis Obispo is not a free lunch! Meadow Park, Mitchell Park need full enforcement completely to get rid of these worthless people from our neighborhoods.

    If they’re not worthless, tell me then, what do they do all day? Take a drive on McMillan Street at night, then notice the cars parked there, then drive over to Meadow Park the next day, tell me what cars you see. Do the same thing? Now take a week off, go back McMillan at night then Meadow Park in the daytime and tell me, was there any difference?

    Steward Jenkins, Saro Rizzo, Babak Naficy, David Fisher and Michael Blank are doing just that. Being in people that choose not to work but do nothing. How many homeless people do you know are looking for a job everyday or working or even just volunteer? I know of none and I met many of them.

    San Luis Obispo is no longer the happient town in USA, we lost that to homeless and the crimes they have brought to this town in the last couple of years. Many of these homeless people are out of towners, they are not local. The local ones have connections and have places to live, it really the one that came here because of this big story of San Luis Obispo being the Happiest Town in America, it was rumored in other States and he they traveled and camped right here and brought the trash. So has the crimes, it is now that San Luis Obispo Police department has 33% plus homeless crimes from stealing, drunkiness, sewage dumping, public fighting, drugs and etc.

    The City needs to enforce the parking ordiance and close Prado Center & Orcutt Homeless Shether down. Plain and simple.

    Lastly, read the daily SLO Police log and count how many crimes are caused by homeless transients. Read the crimes, read the issues these people are doing hour by hour all through the day. These crimes we not such an issue 4 years ago and worse, 5 years from now we will be hitting 40% homeless transients crimes.

    So for you lawyers Steward Jenkins, Saro Rizzo, Babak Naficy, David Fisher and Michael Blank, we San Luis Obispo residents can countersue for opening homeless criminalization for promoting crimes to the Common Wealth to City of San Luis Obispo, sham on you. The town is suffering from these so called homeless crimes and you are promoting the problem.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 31 Thumb down 33

    • Kevin Rice says:

      Being homeless isn’t a crime, and it’s Stewart (you appear less informed when you don’t spell the main players names correctly). I look forward to reading the points and authorities in your counter suit.

      The issues can be addressed constitutionally and without targeting individuals based upon class. Let’s try that approach, shall we?

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 31 Thumb down 25

    • Cindy says:

      I am familiar with Babak Naficy, he represented me in a case that I filed against the city of A-Town some years ago. He is not (as you said) “greedy”. He is highly ethical and conscientious as does what he believes is right “first” and adjust his fees accordingly. I have had my share of dealings with attorneys in the past and if you ever have a case come up that falls in Naficys field, I suggest that you hire him.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 5

  3. Cindy says:

    “Homeless Lawyers”…… !

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 1

  4. Mr. Holly says:

    Pretty simple who the crooks are.
    $148,727 at $350 per hour equals equals 424 hours or 53 8hr. working days or based upon a 20 day work month a little over 2 months but by 2 that would mean they both worked full time on this for over a month.

    I think we may have to have another DA investigation on this. If protocol is followed out of the DA’s office we then can expect nothing to happen except that the attorney’s in the DA’s office will want the money instead.

    Your basic circle jerk.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 39 Thumb down 23

    • Kevin Rice says:

      “[T]hat would mean they both worked full time on this for over a month.”

      I suspect far more than that. I don’t think you have an appreciation for how much work a case like this requires. The city paid much more for their out of town lawyer firm, by the way.

      Imagine, if the council had come to the table instead of pushing through two ordinances, we might have $300+K to help the problem that has not yet been addressed.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 32 Thumb down 25

      • Mr. Holly says:

        Agree! Another case of government being its own worse enemy when it comes to solving a problem. Just look at the waste of money that the HOSC and CAPSLO has wasted? What could have really been done for the homeless and disadvantage with all of the money that has been wasted between these two organizations. What if any positive results do they have to show for the amount of money they have spent. Just another case of government inefficiency.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 3

        • Kevin Rice says:

          Seems we agree on a lot, then!

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 19

          • Mr. Holly says:

            Everything but the bill. There are people in our pentitenaries serving years of incarceration for stealing less than these folks.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 9

    • flytrap says:

      A job that pays $350 per hour works out to almost $700,000 per year! Talk about lawyers trying to line their own pockets by using the homeless as pawns. What a ripoff and trying to justify it by using the excuse of “helping the helpless”! If they were really trying to help them, they would do their work pro bono. I hope the authorities see this scam for what it really is. Another form of ambulance chasing.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 22 Thumb down 17

      • SLOBIRD says:

        If you had a business, in this case a law firm, you would know that preparing legal documents, filling fees – government fees, staff time, copiers, rent, utilities, insurance, car expenses, research, meetings with City, Ad Hoc committees for the Homeless, talking with the police, homeless, businesses (key players), etc. all takes time, briefs, staff tie again, etc. That $700,000 figure probably suports a staff of 4 to 5 people in addition to all the overall. I don’t think this is lining the pockets.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 9

        • leatherpink says:

          Your correct, thats why we have too many lawyers ripping us off. Steward Jenkins is a crook and it reaming the City for exessive fees to buy another Porche.

          Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 22 Thumb down 26

      • Kevin Rice says:

        flytrap,

        $700K presumes you don’t have any employees, equipment or overhead, that you are booked solid (nearly impossible), that you don’t do any work for free (in this case the $60K of criminal work was pro bono), and–most impossibly–that you win every point in every case.

        California law (Code of Civ. Proc. 1021.5) protects the public by allowing attorneys to get paid for public benefit work: “[A] court may award attorneys’ fees to a successful party against one or more opposing parties in any action which has resulted in the enforcement of an important right affecting the public interest…”

        CCP 1021.5 encourages attorneys to protect the Constitution and our laws when government fails to do so. This is by design, and proper.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 22 Thumb down 21

        • flytrap says:

          You are assuming that California Law limits the fees and intrinsically protects the public against overbilling or aggressive “overcalculating” (exaggerating) billable hours. The attorneys are the only ones reporting their hours, like the fox guarding the chicken coop. And the main question that you should ask yourself is whether they should be paid for “public benefit work”, as you say, which obviously is not what is happening here. The attorneys are the only ones benefiting. By that criteria, they should not be paid a nickel.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 7

          • Kevin Rice says:

            “You are assuming that California Law limits the fees and intrinsically protects the public against overbilling”

            It certainly does.The city spent more than $150K, so why is it unreasonable that the other side litigated equally? Do you have anything to say about the city’s bill?

            Yes, they should be paid for public benefit work. Else, it would just be corporate special interests litigating their causes unrestrained.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 8

            • blacksmith says:

              It’s interesting how Kevin Rice seems to be sticking up for these two attorneys.

              He would like you to believe his comments are unbiased.

              What he doesn’t reveal is that Stew Jenkins represented him in court pro bono. Why doesn’t he believe disclosing this information is important?

              These two attorneys are bottom feeders. They pretended that they were representing these people out of the kindness of their heart but it was a lie. They only wanted money, and saw an opportunity to get it. They could care less about the homeless if truth be told.

              I’m glad CCN reported this.

              Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 7

  5. RU4Real says:

    So let me get this straight, these “attorneys” are “claiming” that the derelicts, transient & homeless folks have NOT been treated with DIGNITY & RESPECT….If these BUMS want respect from the rest of the Community, THEY need to START SHOWING respect for the rights of others. Just going to downtown SLO is disgusting & parking at the Palm Street parking structure nausiates the hell out of me because the stench of the homeless bums defecating in the bushes is overwhelming, I would like to see more Police presence in the area. This is far worse than L.A or New York City…At least those cities have a high level of police presence.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 32 Thumb down 30

    • pismo20 says:

      You are missing the point. It is ok to prohibit night parking or sleeping in vehicles, you just have to put up signs and have the same rules for everyone. You cannot have a law that prohibits a group of people fom doing whay others can do.

      I guess you were for police pulling over blacks in white neighborhoods just because they are black, Isn’t SLO wonderful.

      So anyone who loses their job and their home in this economy is a derelict?

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 36 Thumb down 14

    • leatherpink says:

      Well said, thankyou I agree.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 20

  6. pismo20 says:

    Please vote John Ashbaugh out of office. He is unable to do the job he is paid to do and look at what staff recommends with a critical eye. Instead he grabs his pompoms and does his our staff is perfect and makes no mistakes routine.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 47 Thumb down 8

  7. abigchocoholic says:

    The two lawyers who sued the city of San Luis Obispo for unconstitutional treatment of the homeless are seeking $148,727 in legal fees from the city for the civil case.
    ——————————–
    There you go. The truth behind these altruistic lawyers.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 36 Thumb down 30

    • pismo20 says:

      They took a case that they had to win to get paid because their clients were indigent. They saw unconstitutional acts against the homeless and they did something. They donated their time on the criminal case. We need lawyers like this.

      Your anger should be focused on the city council, attorney and manager whose incompetence and refusal to listen to anyone but themselves led to this. In the end, this will probably cost the taxpayers over $500,000. Remember, even though the city has an unusually high number of employees in its legal department, it hired an out-of-area attorney at about $750 an hour to defend its bad acts.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 50 Thumb down 32

      • abigchocoholic says:

        They saw unconstitutional acts against the homeless and they did something.
        —————
        Oooohhh, aaahhhhh. Incredible. The did something you are referring to is the temporary reprieve the homeless got to live in their cars in front of my house, right? It’s their “constitutional right” to do so, right? So impressive. Such a worthwhile cause. It’s so nice to have the homeless parking in front of our houses. Really spices up the neighborhood. And I especially like it when they do drugs and alcohol out of their mobile homes and then comb the neighborhoods at 3 in the morning with all their free time and good intentions because they don’t have to get up and go to work in the morning like the rest of us.

        And how long did this reprieve last, even a month? Well then, what’s to complain about? 150k to get those homeless their preferred overnight parking spaces for a month is just about par for the course in this sick state. Somebody give me the checkbook. I’ll write the check for this worthy cause.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 29 Thumb down 34

        • SLOBIRD says:

          No offense, but I thought this occurred on Prado Road and to mu knowledge there are no residential homes on Prado/ Are they parking in another area of SLO that we have not been told about. If they are in residential areas I too think that wrong. For the money the City has spent (and County staff time) I am sure they could have fixed up De Vaul’s place and put these people back in a safe happy zone. They must be given a place to park because they exist and need a safe place to be.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 6

          • hijinks says:

            She lives in the creek — that’s why it’s in front of her house.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

      • calzoni says:

        These lawyers donated nothing. They merely saw a target of opportunity and gambled that they could successfully prevail. It’s all about them.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 22 Thumb down 25

      • leatherpink says:

        They are not bad acts. The town would be liable it is had no ordiance, it is an insurance wavier to protect the City. The City could be sued severly it if had no sleeping ordiance more than $500,000.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 20

    • Robert1 says:

      And they did this without a gun and a mask, now we know why most people don’t like lawyers.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 23 Thumb down 26

    • hijinks says:

      Are you suggesting they shouldn’t get paid for their work? That’s unAmerican!

      As for the amount, the judge will sort out what’s fair and what’s not. Their claim seems on the high side — will probably get $30,000-40,000 for taking a case nobody else would take because the others really could have made $150,000 for the same effort. Yes, lawyers are greedy — charge as much for an hour (billed by the minute) as normal people make in a week, and that’s what we call “justice” in this fine country, and most of them around here were educated on the taxpayer’s dime at a UC law school.

      They will get paid something, and the stupid city will have to pay up. If the city were smart, they’d sit down and settle out of court.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 8

      • leatherpink says:

        Settling out of court, is like Michael Jackson settling out of court in 1993 and see what happen in 2005, same problem. City cannot let these laywers have their way, the City has too much residents that don’t want these people living here in their trailers and etc. As long as you have derelicts roaming around town the residents will have to foot the bill for their free dependence

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  8. SLOBIRD says:

    Absolutely this fee should be paid and it should be paid by City Attorney Christine Dietrick and the City Council as they made the mistake to not negotiation IN GOOD FAITH with Jenkins and Rizzo. Why do we retain incompentent people like Ms. Dietrick and then reward her incompetence with a raise in January? Oh yea, I forgot, she is the puppet for Katie and the also incompetent staff. REMEMBER THIS AMOUNT, PLUS WHAT THE CITY HAS ALREADY PAID WHEN IT COMES TIME TO VOTE FOR THAT SALES TAX INCREASE WHICH IS MEANT FOR COMMUNITY AND CAPITAL PROJECTS. I AM SURE THEY THINK THIS IS A COMMUNITY PROJECT!!!

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 56 Thumb down 23

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