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Thursday, May 26, 2011

San Francisco Housing Authority Can't Ban People from Its Property, Judge Says

Posted By on Thu, May 26, 2011 at 4:00 AM

click to enlarge A judge busts the Housing Authority.
  • A judge busts the Housing Authority.

A San Francisco judge declared that the Housing Authority's

nuisance injunctions which ban certain individuals from coming anywhere

near its property citywide is unconstitutional. The Housing Authority

has won 75 such injunctions against individuals since 2007 -- a weapon

to keep people who officials deem to be unsavory away from city

property.

"While the city's gang injunctions received a lot of attention, the Housing Authority was quietly barring San Franciscans from large chunks of their city, whether or not they had been convicted of any crime," says Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney at the Public Defender's Office.

The Housing Authority's spokeswoman, Rose Dennis, did not immediately return a call from SF Weekly.



In a ruling issued Tuesday, Judge Richard Ulmer, Jr., said not only do injunctions makes it difficult "to exist" in a compact city like

San Francisco, but he also took issue with the fact the Housing Authority

seeks injunctions in civil court where there's no opportunity for a contested hearing.

"No live witnesses. No cross-examination," the judge wrote. Most

damningly, civil defendants have no right to an attorney, and end up

representing themselves.

The injunctions all nearly read the same, banning the defendant

"perpetually" from being on or within 150 yards of any of the 53 Housing

Authority-owned properties. The defendants also cannot be on a street

running through or bordering the properties.

The case at hand

was against Marcus Johnson, a 20-something African American man who was

arrested while visiting his kids at a Western Addition housing project.

The judge noted that "it is

difficult for Johnson to legally travel the city through the quilt of 53

SFHA properties."

"This erects significant barriers to Johnson's ability

to work, worship, eat, associate with family and friends -- in short, to

exist in San Francisco," the judge said.

Also, "at a time when too many fathers fail to be involved in their children's

lives, Johnson is apparently trying to fulfill this important role,"

the judge wrote.

Johnson was represented by Public Defender Jeff Adachi and the ACLU's Alan Schlosser. Schlosser said in a statement said the legal team is working to lift the injunction on "approximately 50" other people.

Johnson was arrested on Feb. 19 on suspicion of violating the injunction when he was at Yerba Buena Plaza

East visiting his children at their mom's residence. It has been his fourth arrest

on the same charge in seven months. The Housing Authority had alleged

that in 2006 and 2007, Johnson assaulted and robbed people as well as possessed

illegal drugs at the property. Yet the complaint debated that Johnson was ever convicted of a crime.

Ulmer wrote that injunction had no time limit on specific illicit activities -- banning "even mere presence."

Interestingly, not even the district attorney wanted to push forward

with the contempt of court order cases facing the seven defendants,

arrested for being on one of the banned properties. The district

attorney's office filed court documents in April saying it would not

oppose the defendants' demurrers in April.

A demurrer is a pleading that

alleges even if the acts alleged are true, they do not sustain the

charge against them.

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Lauren Smiley

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