Thursday, September 10, 2009

Judge delays hearing on Sacramento homeless camp

Judge delays hearing on Sacramento homeless camp

Published Thursday, Sep. 10, 2009

A judge today refused to stop a local lawyer from turning his midtown property into an encampment for the homeless.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Loren McMaster said that the city of Sacramento had not served attorney Mark Merin with a notice of today's hearing so he could not rule on the city's request for a temporary restraining order today. The judge then put off a hearing on the matter until Sept. 22.

Deputy City Attorney Michael Benner said the delay will present a hardship to a 72-year-old man who lives adjacent to Merin's property, where dozens of homeless people have been sleeping in recent days. A lawyer for the neighbor, Pedro Hernandez, said that people have been knocking on his client's door in the middle of the night asking him if he's in favor of the encampment or opposed to it, and that others have been urinating on his property.

"I have emails filling up my inbox with neighborhood declarations, 'What are you guys doing about this?'" Benner said.

Judge McMaster suggested that the city police take action against lawbreakers, to which Benner replied, "That's not stopping the problem. If that were stopping the problem, there'd be no reason for us to be here."

Merin, who has filed a successful class-action lawsuit in the past on behalf of local homeless residents, has retained an attorney to represent him in the action filed by the city. He asked that the case be put over at least until next week so his lawyer can get familiar with the case.

Benner pushed for a ruling as soon as Friday on the temporary restraining order, but McMaster said he'd prefer to handle the matter as a request for a preliminary injunction, with a full hearing preceded by attorneys for both sides filing written briefs.

"This is a significant thing," McMaster said from the bench. "We're undoing something."

Merin on Aug. 21 opened his property at 1221 C Street to the homeless. Sacramento police ordered the campers out the next day and last Friday arrested 17 people for violating the city's illegal camping ordinance.

Aldon Bolanos, the attorney for Pedro Hernandez, said the situation is taking a toll on his client's health. The lawyer then ripped McMaster for his ruling.

"The judge has kicked the ball out a week and a half, and it's really going to affect the neighborhood and the neighbors in a poor, poor fashion," Bolanos said. "I think the judge really sort of abdicated his judicial duties at this point by refusing to take on a very public and important issue at this time."

Merin said it is only an assumption that the midnight door knocks and other forms of harassment occurred, and if they did, that it was the people at his encampment who were responsible.

"They say they absolutely swear that they had nothing to do with it," Merin said of the campers.

In the meantime, Merin said, some 700 homeless people have died on the city's streets over the past 39 years and "they need a safe place to be."

"If the city won't provide it, private owners have to allow them to be on the property," Merin said. "If they can't be on public property and they can't be on private property, then it's illegal for homeless people to be in the city, and that's unconstitutional."

Education for Liberation! Venceremos Unidos!
Peter S. Lopez ~aka ~Peta-de-Aztlan~
Sacramento, California, Aztlan
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