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March 14, 2013

Lawsuit Filed to Stop L.A. County Court Closures That Will Likely Lead to More Unjust and Illegal Evictions

Los Angeles Superior Court's closure of 21 of its 26 courtrooms for eviction hearings illegally "shuts the courthouse doors on many of the county's most vulnerable residents" community organizers claim in a federal lawsuit, which CES is a plaintiff in.

The 26 courts where unlawful detainer cases were filed are being reduced to five courts in the downtown Stanley Mosk Courthouse, or in Pasadena, Long Beach, Santa Monica, or Antelope Valley.

In response, the Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, the Western Center on Law and Poverty, and the Disability Rights Legal Center are suing the Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of the Coalition for Economic Survival, People Organized for Westside Renewal, Union de Vecinos, the Independent Living Center of Southern California and several impacted individuals.

The lawsuit claims the state's response to its judicial funding crisis violated the Fair Housing Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the First and 14th Amendments.

Facing a $56 million to $85 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year, the closings will include 10 regional courthouses.

There are 70,000 unlawful detainers – eviction cases – and 60,000 small claims that go through the Superior Court each year.

Unlawful detainers are filed when a tenant refuses to leave an apartment or leased property after receiving an eviction notice.

The complaint states: "The Court's plan delivers a devastating blow to individuals with disabilities and violates its obligation to make courts accessible to people with disabilities. Yet, as the Court has acknowledged, it did not even consider the impact of its plan on tenants with disabilities."

It also states, "The Court's actions will force thousands of low-income Black, Latino and Asian tenants and tenants with disabilities to spend five hours or more traveling to distant courthouses and back, simply to have their day in court."

At a March 14th news conference on the steps of the Los Angeles Federal Courthouse, where the lawsuit was filed, CES Executive Director Larry Gross stated, "Unfortunately, the unbalanced scales of justice are being further weighted against low income and working people with this outrageous plan of court house closures and consolidation."

Joined by other organization plaintiffs and legal service organization attorneys, Gross further said that landlord will have greater incentives to now evict tenants even if there is no basis or legal justification, because chances become high that many of these tenants won't respond to the eviction notice or will not show up for the hearing, because they have no way to get to court, thus will default and lose there eviction case.

Following the news conference, several blocks away in front of the downtown Stanley Mosk LA County Superior Courthouse, hundreds of others packed the street to protest the court closures. The demonstration was organized by the Service Employees International Union, the ACLU/Southern California and others.

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