HillcrestBlog by "San Diego News Service" (619) 757-4909

"San Diego News Service" covers hard news, features and reviews for local and national print media, and maintains, "HillcrestBlog." Address: 3907 Georgia St., #15, San Diego 92103-3548. Our editor is Leo E. Laurence, J.D., Copy Ed.: Martin Brickson. Member: Society of Professional Journalists, Latino Journalists of California. Call news tips to (619) 757-4909 (days), Nights: (619) 220-8686 (fax also). leopowerhere@msn.com Copyright 2008 by San Diego News Service

Friday, September 12, 2008

TEMPORARY SMALL CLAIMS JUDGE GOOFED

Some "judges" that hear cases in Small Claims courts are really not actually judges; but rather temporary commissioners who preside over the hundreds of civil cases that are overloading the unique court.

Small Claims court provide a very simple procedure to hear complaints involving no more than $7,500 for individuals. Attorneys are not permitted to participate and the procedures are highly streamlined.

With a shortage of regular judges, the Small Claims division of The Superior Court hires local civil lawyers to preside over case, with permission of the litigants.

If you appear in Small Claims court, when asked by the bailiff it you will approve having one of these part-time lawyers hear your case, say NO loud and clear.

Quite frankly, I look at the Small Claims system from the perspective of having spent 10 years in the law. I hold a law degree, served 18-months as Law Clerk to the Superior Court when I was in law school; and after earning my law degree, I served as a legal research for the state Court of Appeal in San Diego for four years. I know the legal system, as it should work.

Our Small Claims courts - with these part-time lawyers presiding - may not work well.

For 14 years, I lived in the old Del Oro Apartments located at Robinson and Tenth Avenues in Hillcrest. It was my home and I loved it!

My landord was John W. Lyon, who owns lots of commercial, residential property. He is motivated only by money!

But, my privacy was important to me, and I didn't want the landlord or his staff entering my home unless I was there, or in case of an emergency. Those restrictions are protected under state Civil Code section 1954.

However, my landlord hired an off-site manager, Mrs. Alice Arrington; and because I knew the law, she didn't like me.

One day she posted a Notice to Enter Dwelling Unit for the purpose of checking my smoke alarm. That reason is not included under the provisions of section 1954.

So I sent her a letter on August 29, 2007 challenging her "Notice."

She didn't like that, and within 24-hours, an eviction notice was posted on my door.

In the law, that is called a retaliatory eviction, and it has long been prohibited in California law.

Eventually, however, I did move; at a cost of $3,103.81.

I sued John Lyon in Small Claims court, and added $2,000 in punitive damages, which the law provides to prevent a defendant (my landlord) from doing the same unlawful practice again in the future.

To prepare for the Small Claims trial, I researched and drafted a 7-page legal brief, plus 12-pages of exhibits (evidence).

Unfortunately, when the trial opened on September 11th, I agreed to allow one of these temporary "judges" to preside.

Mistake!!!

Attorney Jessica Rowland sat on the bench.

I gave a brief summary of my case as plaintiff against my former landlord, but then submitted my legal brief with its evidentiary exhibits.

"Judge" Rowland didn't even read the brief.

Her questions were not even on-point. They were NOT directed to the critical issue of whether the eviction was launched in retaliation for my letter challenging the off-site manager, Mrs. Arrington.

She ruled against me.

If I ever appear in a Small Claims court again, and am asked to accept one of these part-time "judges" who are just local lawyers, and have little judicial experience; I will quickly say NO.

In a letter to attorney Jessica Rowland, I wrote: "If you had taken the case under submission, read my short brief and then ruled; I would have respected you and your decision, but . . ."

________________________

Contact Leo E. Laurence, J.D., at leopowerhere@msn.com or call (619) 757-409

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