By Cres Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief
SACRAMENTO, CA – Chief U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller disqualified herself from hearing a homeless matter here Friday in response to a pleading by counsel for the homeless that asked for her to recuse herself because of statements made by her husband attacking the unhoused community.
A hearing on an injunction sought by the Homeless Union to aid the unhoused during the summer’s heat is now in limbo, although the case is now with U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley, said Anthony D. Prince, General Counsel, California Homeless Union/Statewide Organizing Council.
“(T)he facts would cause a reasonable person to conclude that Judge Mueller’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned,” said Prince in a filing, referring to Mueller’s husband, Robert Slobe, who shares an interest with Mueller in the North Sacramento Land Company.
Prince charged in his declaration to recuse/disqualify Mueller that the “organization of which Mr. Slobe is president, has been at the forefront of political pressure campaigns and lawsuits demanding that Sacramento officials intensify the eradication of homeless encampments.”
Homeless advocates are pressing the city and county of Sacramento in federal court to provide thousands in the unhoused community with relief from extreme summer heat—temps will hit 100 degrees or more several days this week as they have most of this month.
The Homeless Union late last month asked federal court for an ex parte temporary order to require the city and county of Sacramento to “protect” the unhoused from the heat. Mueller postponed the first hearing after denying the petition for injunctive relief.
The Homeless Union said it was “disappointed by the decision of the district court to deny our motion for a temporary order…regarding the failure of the City and County of Sacramento to take measures to protect the unsheltered from the extreme heat we continue to face.”
Regarding Mueller, Prince said, “Taken separately…Plaintiffs do not assert that the Court holds a personal bias against plaintiffs or the unhoused as a disfavored population. Nevertheless…the combination of Judge Mueller’s interests in marital property shared with the President of a major Sacramento landowning company whose material interests, or so he claims, are directly and negatively impacted by the homeless, thousands of which—including those camped in the North Sacramento area and along the American River Parkway.”
Prince added that NSLC President Slobe in a part of Sacramento that is “ground zero” in the “conflict between the homeless on the one side, local government on another and property owners on a third ‘side.’” “Both in his individual capacity and as the CEO of NSLC, Mr. Slobe is now and has for nearly 20 years been a high-profile, outspoken, controversial, divisive and often vulgar leading proponent of eradicating homeless encampments in the Sacramento area, particularly those encampments at the American River Parkway area where he and Judge Mueller live and own property,” the recusal pleading notes.
Prince notes a 2003 story in the Sacramento Bee where Slobe said, “The worst thing about it all is that it is legally my responsibility to clean up after these cretins,” and in another news account declaring “Bums burned the oldest walnut grove west of the Mississippi to the ground” and compared the homeless as “akin to the county’s own deformed thalidomide babies.”
Slobe, according to Prince’s filing, has also called the homeless “criminals” and “ghouls.”
While it appears Judge Mueller hasn’t weighed in directly, Prince’s filing quotes her, in a news report about Slobe’s negative comments about those without homes as stating her husband has ‘a strong sense of right and wrong.’
“Of course, standing alone, Judge Mueller cannot and should not be tarred by the outrageous, false and highly prejudicial statements of her husband and Plaintiffs do not now assert that Judge Mueller shares these extreme views. Nevertheless, it is also true, as far as our research has shown, that Judge Mueller has never publicly disavowed or distanced herself from such comments.
“Plaintiffs do not have evidence and do not here assert that Judge Mueller is personally involved in the affairs of the North Sacramento Land Company, the fact remains that the organization over which her husband presides and from which he derives material and political benefits is, under the aegis of lawsuits against the City of Sacramento, is serving the shared interest of the City and the NSLC in eradicating homeless encampments.
Prince adds, “Accordingly, under the circumstances, Judge Mueller’s impartiality “might reasonably be questioned.” Prince and his homeless plaintiffs also cited Judge Mueller’s ruling in Mahoney v. City of Sacramento, where the judge “denied a motion for a temporary restraining order filed by homeless persons after Sacramento Police removed a porta-potty that had been donated and placed in a 30-person homeless encampment.”
“In that case homeless plaintiffs had raised issues of the constitutional right to bodily integrity impacted by the removal of the portable toilet where the nearest public facilities were over a mile away. Judge Mueller held, essentially, that no constitutional claim could be made,” wrote Prince.
Similar “bodily integrity” are raised in the heat relief filing before Mueller now, and the plaintiffs said they are “concerned that Judge Mueller may similarly discount these risks and their legal significance.”
“We intend to present such evidence—and more—to show that the City and County must offer more than a handful of part-time cooling centers; more than pushing the homeless onto the sweltering streets and sidewalks; more than locking the unhoused into the City’s dangerously overheated ‘Safeground’ tents,” said Prince.
The Union said it’s calling on “the media, the church, elected officials—and in particular, those organizations that claim they are against the sweeps and on the side of the homeless—to join our lawsuit, to help gather the evidence we need, to sign declarations and be prepared to testify to the failures of the City and County to protect those most at risk for heat-related injury and death.”
Prince implored the city and county to, among other things, “declare a local public health extreme heat emergency and take all and every measure to protect and preserve the health of the unhoused, open cooling centers for 24 hours a day for the “duration” of the summer, make available all “vacant” city and county owned or managed properties for the unhoused.”
In his letter to the city and county of Sacramento, the Union demanded the city and county provide “transportation” for the unhoused to the cooling centers.
Prince said the “existing requirement of three forecasted days of 105 degrees before cooling centers can be opened must be discontinued,” charging it was a “scientifically unsupported” policy violates “pertinent portions of the California Health and Safety Code, the Welfare and Institutions Code, the 8th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.”
“The science behind the very serious risk of great bodily harm and even death from exposure to extreme temperatures is well known and otherwise readily available to the county and its various public health agencies and departments,” wrote Prince.
The letter to the city and county charged “homeless persons are being forced” into areas where “tents are in direct contact with concrete and asphalt surfaces where temperatures are dangerously and unbearably high and carry the risks of heat stress, heat stroke, hyperthermia and death,” and urged “sweeps” that move the homeless out of area where there is shade end immediately.
Prince argued, “For a homeless person, particularly the elderly, those with disabilities and underlying medical conditions that can be aggravated by heat, the physical work involved in gathering up belongings in triple-digit heat and being forced to go somewhere else in triple digit heat is extremely stressful in and of itself.”
For the homeless, explained Prince in his letter, there is “absolutely no alternative, accessible indoor shelter or housing of any kind is being actually provided in violation of the command of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the Martin v. Boise case.”
He added that the city and county “must assign and/or reassign all non-essential personnel and utilize all available city and county vehicles, go to all locations where homeless persons are found and use public address equipment to inform unhoused persons that they will be provided with transportation to safe, indoor and accessible locations.”
The Homeless Union also insisted, per the letter, the city and county “must provide clean, safe, potable water in sufficient quantities such that it is available on a 24-hour basis to the unhoused.”
Finally, Prince demanded the city and county must immediately stop, for the summer, the “clearing of existing homeless encampments; (and) forced relocation to ‘safe ground’ camps and/or other ‘sanctioned’ locations where exposure to the heat cannot be eliminated.”