Constitutional Law

Legal aid groups sue over Los Angeles plan to have 5 courts hear eviction cases instead of 26

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Legal aid groups have banded together and filed a federal lawsuit over a plan to reduce to five the number of Los Angeles County courts that hear eviction cases.

Presently, 26 courts throughout the county hear eviction cases, the Los Angeles Times’ L.A. Now blog reports. The planned reduction to five such courts, which was made in response to a state budget crisis and an expected multimillion-dollar deficit, effectively “shuts the courthouse doors on many of the county’s most vulnerable residents” by requiring them to travel as much as 32 miles through unfamiliar territory via mass transit, the plaintiffs contend.

Legal aid groups including the Disability Rights Legal Center, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, and the Western Center on Law & Poverty filed suit Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles on behalf of plaintiffs including two disabled individuals facing eviction and several civil rights groups, according to L.A. Now and the San Bernardino County Sun.

Anticipated travel difficulties are a particular problem in eviction cases, not only because respondents often have little income but because the cases move quickly. Typically, tenants have five days to file a written response to a landlord suit and a default judgment is entered if they do not, the two newspapers explain. Meanwhile, language barriers, a lack of child care and the inability to take time off from work to travel for hours to and from court can make it impossible for respondents to get to a far-distant courthouse.

“What this will do is effectively shut the court doors for the most vulnerable people,” attorney Maria Palomares of Neighborhood Legal Services told the Sun.

State Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, who chairs the Assembly Budget Committee, said in a letter to Presiding Judge David S. Wesley that the plan to close eviction courts is “simply unacceptable,” L.A. Now reports. He contended the plan, which is scheduled to take effect Monday, “will impose insurmountable conditions on low-income renters needing to defend themselves in unlawful detainer complaints and undeniably push more working families into the chasm of homeless.”

The L.A. Now post doesn’t include any comment from the superior court, which is named as a defendant, along with the state, but a superior court spokeswoman said several years of budget cuts has left the judiciary with no choice but to impose painful options, the Sun reported.

“We’re just finally at the point where we’re really cutting into the bone now,” said Mary Hearn. “There’s no discretionary area left to cut—it’s only the real bedrock of the court services.”

Related coverage: “Top judge cites Gideon case, says lack of Calif. court funding threatens loss of civil rights”

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