$75 Ticket For Keeping Chickens, $5,600 In “Prosecution Fees”
February 22, 2018
A putative class-action has been filed against two CA municipalities “that have made a practice of taking residents to criminal court for exceptionally minor crimes, then charging them thousands to pay for the cost of their own prosecution,” according to an expose in the Desert Sun newspaper. The two cities hired law firm Silver & Wright, which has a specialty in municipal law and code enforcement, and the firm then helped them “create new ordinances that would allow them to send a bill to anyone who is convicted of a nuisance property crime, then began taking property owners to criminal court,” the article says. The initial plaintiff, 79-year-old Ramona Morales, is described as a former house cleaner and Avon salesperson who bought and with the assistance of family members renovated six small rental properties. After being cited by the city of Indio she paid two $75 fines, one because a tenant was keeping chickens in the yard and one for failing to have a proper license to rent. She assumed that ended the matter, but a year later she got a bill for an additional $3000, including $2600 in “prosecution fees.” When she appealed and lost the city tacked on another $2,600, bringing the total to $5,659. Morales is being represented by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm. When contacted by the Desert Sun newspaper, Silver & Wright said all its prosecutions were meritorious and that the fees charged by the firm reimbursed taxpayers. The law firm has said it’s been the subject of death threats, following an earlier article by the Desert Sun, published in November of last year.
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