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The Greens Day In Court - The Life and Thoughts of Zach

Jan. 21st, 2004

11:33 am - The Greens Day In Court

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NEWS:

Today several members of the Prairie Green Party appeared in County Circuit Court (case #03MR00756) to argue that the Green Party be a "recognized party" for ballot access and primary purposes in Champaign County. Their argument was based on the fact that Carl Estabrook's campaign for US Congress in 2002 received over 5% (he received 8%) of the vote within Champaign County. The plaintiffs were Al Weiss, John Paul Schmit, Jennifer Walling, and Ken Urban all of whom petitioned to appear on a Green Party primary ballot this spring.

Mark Sheldon's County Clerk's office argued that Articles 7 and 10 of the election code when read together require that the 5% of the vote required for recognized party status must come from a vote for an office in same governmental unit that the recognition is granted in. The Greens argued that in fact these two articles taken together complement each other to ensure maximum openness of the electoral process to parties that receive 5% of the vote within a political subdivision regardless of the office being sought by the candidate receiving 5% of the vote.

The Greens argued that not only is there reason to believe that the Legislature (on the assumption that they were acting rationally and constitutionally) intended the broader meaning but that if that is not the meaning of the legislation then there are Constitutional issues of equal protection and the right to vote rooted in the first amendment to be considered. Other parts of the articles in question (particularly the loyalty clause in Article 7), as well as other parts of the election code have already been found unconstitutional.

The judge said he needed to review the case and will issue an expedited judgement by Friday.

OPINION:

Court is always an interesting experience for me. I'm intrigued by the whole process. Since this was a general civil court the many cases that happened before the Greens case had nothing to do with election law. Every single one of them was regarding back rent and eviction. It was kind of tragic to see all these people being evicted over one or two months worth of rent. To see the judge asking these folks who had no lawyer "how they wanted to proceed" and watching them squirm as they had no options. There were several people who simply agreed to pay (the smart thing to do if you don't have a case against your landlord). There were a few who believed the landlord's request dollar amount to be in error and who asked for a trial (good to stand up for their rights but I hope they have a lawyer at the trial because the landlords sure did). Finally there were several who said they just wanted to pay, the judge said that didn't concern him all he wanted to know is if they wanted a trial or simply agreed to the claims of the landlords. These few asked for a a trial. I think that they thought "great this gives me another week to come up with the money or to move out before I get evicted". What I don't think they realized was that it would increase the legal fees they would be required to pay to the landlords for the plaintiff's lawyer. I wished I could go up and tell these folks, who were ready to pay their debt, that they were screwing themselves into paying more money.

Of note was the fact that of the dozen or more people that were being evicted this morning, every single one of them was Black. That seemed pretty odd to me. Indicative of some institutional racism among landlords? Would I have ever met the threat of eviction for being $385 behind on my rent?

During the Greens trial there was a total change of pace. Two lawyers and a lot of VERY technical questions about "common law construction" versus "constitutionality", whether "severability" applied because of the unconstitutional loyalty clause, whether we could assume that the legislature acted "rationally and constitutionally" and what could be solved through the "writ of mandamus" and what had to go back to remanded back to some electoral or administrative review board. I think I followed it all (I never heard of a "writ of mandamus" before but I assume from context that is the name of the order that the court issues with it's final judgement?) by listening very closely.

The judge really seemed to understand the Green Party's argument which seemed positive. The Green's lawyer walked a very impressive line between strong impassioned speech about the constitutional rights of the party members and very technical presentation of the case.

Current Mood: legal

Comments:

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From:zarfmouse
Date:January 21st, 2004 07:32 pm (UTC)

Re: greens rule!

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Can you imagine being that guy whose job is to spend your whole day evicting poor people? You'd have to become a total cynic or else go completely insane.

The problem with running for county board is that if I win, I can't run for Urbana City Council in 2005 which is what I feel more qualified to do since I go to City Council meetings and follow city issues much more (still not enough, I plan on starting to go every week) than county issues. But I definitely want to think about it. Maybe I'll start going to county board meetings too.

I'm glad you found my journal! Random postings are _always_ welcome. I posted this to ucimc.org as well.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:January 21st, 2004 09:30 pm (UTC)

Re: greens rule!

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Cool, that's what I gathered from context. I love all the crazy obfuscated terms of art being slung around by the judge at the very same that he kind of makes a subtle joke about how "recognized party" is clearly a term of art because we all recognize the Greens as a party. :)
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From:boannan
Date:January 22nd, 2004 02:43 am (UTC)

Re: greens rule!

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....there's nothing quite like judicial humor. (everybody has to laugh! ;)
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From:assclouds
Date:January 22nd, 2004 02:22 am (UTC)
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Not to be a picky prick or the like, but one case had a pair of white women as defendants. Regardless, it was pretty obscene how racially slanted the evictees were. From my recollection, the rent owed ranged from $385 per defendant to around $1700 per defendant. Given the range of housing available in this town, those numbers could imply one or two month's unpaid rent, but could also imply five or six.

It can be really easy to fall behind on rent, especially if you're living paycheck to paycheck - one bad situation can leave you screwed. I realize you understand that, of course. In my old apartment - over the course of three years and being unemployed for nearly 10 months - I probably earned a dozen initial eviction notices. Ramshaw would place them on the door the day rent was due if I hadn't paid. It's very clear that Ramshaw, and by extension most other landlords, don't give a damn about extenuating circumstances.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:January 22nd, 2004 06:18 am (UTC)
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Yah, I guess I've been lucky in this town in that I've always had friendly small time landlords (because I've always rented houses instead of apartments) with whom I was able to gain a personal rapore. I've always worked directly with the owner of the house instead of a management company. I've been up to a month late on rent before with nothing but a stern warning and a slap on the wrist. Usually no one even noticed until a week or two after rent was due and then they started complaining politely, some charged a nominal late fee or interest or something.

I had one landlord that did a pretty shady thing. Urbana regulates what an acceptable late fee is. So instead of having a late fee he had a $75 early payment discount and charged us $75/mo above market rates for the apartment. Even with him though, I got away several times with not having to pay the higher rate even though I missed the early payment window.

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From:boannan
Date:January 22nd, 2004 03:43 am (UTC)
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when I did tenants rights stuff I did at the clinic, it was definitely true that there were "repeat players" who operated as the landlords' attorneys (to be fair there were also repeat players on the tenant side too, the big difference being that many tenants couldn't get a lawyer).

I really hope those folks you saw today can get some kind of legal representation.

What frustrated me towards the end of my time at the clinic was that, despite all of our best lawyering (getting people extensions, getting evictions overturned, emergency stays of execution), the bottom-line intractable problem was that folks just did not have the money to pay the rent. Buying them some time would keep their family off the street and allow them to look for a new place, but in the end they made very little money and property in CA is unbelievably expensive.

I admired my supervisor for the work she did on the Just Cause Oakland campaign http://www.justcauseoakland.org/home/index.php which gave thousands of folks statutory protection from being evicted without "just cause." Sometimes I think those types of initiatives are the only way to really beat the problem.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:January 22nd, 2004 06:19 am (UTC)
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Just sounds cool. I'll have to look into that for Urbana. Bookmarked.
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From:assclouds
Date:January 22nd, 2004 06:37 am (UTC)

Bookmarked

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...and never seen again. Seriously, how many links are in your bookmarks right now, Mr Zach? I speak from experience only.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:January 22nd, 2004 06:41 am (UTC)

Re: Bookmarked

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When I'm a) a city council member or b) working on the Green Party Platform I WILL go back to that link.

I revisit bookmarks all the time. When I think "oh there was that thing that was cool before and is relevent now" I grep through my bookmarks file and find it.
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