Several legal aid groups are suing the state over cost-cutting measures under which 21 courtrooms across Los Angeles County will no longer handle landlord disputes, which the plaintiffs say will unfairly force low-income tenants and people with disabilities to travel long distances to the remaining five locations hearing eviction cases.
In a declaration filed with the lawsuit, disabled plaintiff Brenda Miles, 58, of Northridge said she will now be forced to travel 30 miles to the Pasadena courthouse to fight eviction from her apartment, a trip she says may be physically impossible due to her spinal cord injury and need for pain medication.
"The idea of traveling to Pasadena makes me nervous, anxious and sad because of the extreme pain I know it would cause me," Miles stated. "The car ride and the thought of having to stand in line is overwhelming. ... I am not sure whether I will be able to physically make it to Pasadena."
"These changes will leave countless individuals and families without access to justice in cases where basic human needs are at stake," said Neal Dudovitz, executive director of Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, one of four legal aid organizations bringing the complaint in federal court against Gov. Jerry Brown and other state officials.
"For these families -- any of whom depend on public transport -- the prospect of traveling so far outside their own community to have their day in court is tantamount to having the door to justice slammed in their face," he said.
The plaintiffs, including two disabled people facing eviction, are attempting to halt the plan before it goes into effect Monday. County officials are making cuts in the judicial system in order to close a budget shortfall of $50 million to $80 million.
Under the plan, landlord disputes are to be heard only in Pasadena, Long Beach, Santa Monica, the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles and the Antelope Valley Courthouse in Lancaster.
The court's cost-cutting plan will eliminate all eviction hearings in the San Fernando Valley -- home to more than 1.75 million people -- "and home to more individuals with disabilities than any other part of the county," according to the lawsuit, which cites violations of the Fair Housing Act and due process.
"A low-income tenant who lives in Whittier or Pico Rivera will have to be on a bus by 6 a.m. to reach the Long Beach court by 8:30 a.m.," said Barbara Schultz, an attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.
"She will have to transfer buses and get to a city she may have no familiarity with," the attorney said. "Imagine this tenant is living with disabilities that will make this even more difficult, if not impossible. As our California Supreme Court chief justice recently said of court closures, we are facing a civil rights crisis. And it starts here in Los Angeles County, where low-income tenants will be unable to access their neighborhood courts when they most need them."
The lawsuit was announced this week outside the Los Angeles federal courthouse. At the same time, a union-organized rally protesting the cuts took place a few blocks away at the Mosk courthouse.
"The proposed court consolidation puts a staggering burden on people with disabilities and low-income persons whose homes are threatened," said Silvia Argueta, executive director of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. "There's no question that, for them, justice will be denied. "