Homeless Union Accuses Sacramento Superior Court Presiding Judge of Violating Federal Ruling Prohibiting Homeless Sweeps, CA Judicial Ethics

Possessions of a homeless person on Capital Mall Drive in Sacramento on Saturday, September 11, 2021.(Photo by Robert J Hansen)

By Robert J. Hansen

SACRAMENTO, CA – The Sacramento Homeless Union (SHU) and its attorneys accused Sacramento County Superior Court presiding Judge Michael Bowman Tuesday at a news conference of violating a federal ruling prohibiting sweeping homeless encampments.

SHU also charged Bowman may have violated the California Code of Judicial Ethics when he sent a letter to Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg last month claiming unsafe conditions at the courthouse and that courthouse security has had to remove homeless people from the courthouse daily.

See also: https://www.davisvanguard.org/2023/07/homeless-union-contends-sacramento-superior-court-presiding-judge-may-have-broken-california-judicial-ethics-disputes-judge-claim-of-unhoused-crime-wave-near-courthouse/?fbclid=IwAR0maPQz45HlCr4xug1Fv82hA7xIL4H7QPgWujWQNRz-FG-frMi7qd3nGZg

“These daily incidents include but are not limited to, physical and verbal assault, public sex acts, open fires, nudity, urinating and defecating on walkways. Court security removes unsheltered individuals, who have no business with the court, from the Main Courthouse daily and our facilities team must regularly remove feces and other waste from our entryways and grounds,” Bowman wrote.

Sacramento Homeless Union Attorney Anthony Prince (left) and formerly unhoused Jennie Welles (right) speaking about Judge Michael Bowman’s request that the City remove homeless people from the courthouse grounds at the Sacramento Superior Court on Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Anthony Prince, attorney for the SHU, said at the news conference judges are supposed to avoid making any public statements that could be interpreted as not impartial.

Judges, noted Prince, cannot make statements “that commit the judge with respect to cases, controversies, or issues that are likely to come before the courts,” according to the California judicial ethics code.

“These kinds of hateful messages, intended or not, are contributing to the atmosphere we see where people are getting hurt and the lives of homeless people are being degraded,” Prince said. “This kind of mentality that is all out to get rid of the homeless one way or another.”

Prince said that the judge’s letter opens the door to a one-sided, distorted and false narrative of the homeless situation in and around the Sacramento courthouse.

“I think you’ll agree with the Union that it was a problematic statement, seen or unforeseen. It has led to some very serious consequences,” Prince said. “We’re worried as to whether a homeless person can get justice in this courthouse.”

Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho sent a letter to City Councilmember Katie Valenzuela’s office requesting her to enforce city code and ordinance violations “consistently,” a day after Mayor Steinberg received Judge Bowman’s letter.

“Unfortunately, significant public safety concerns are affecting the public, District Attorney employees, jurors called to fulfill their civic duty, defendants appearing (in) their cases and victims of crime seeking justice,” Ho wrote. “To obtain justice, members of our community require unfettered access to the Courthouse and the District Attorney’s Office without threats to their safety or well-being.”

The Sacramento mayor told Judge Bowman the City of Sacramento is adding more safe camping spaces at Miller Park later in July.

“We must be able to bring people from the sidewalk into safer spaces to connect them with the services they need while providing the relief that our streets and neighborhoods deserve,” Darrell Steinberg said. “Downtown and around the Court will be first in line for these new spaces and for cleaning up in the next several weeks.”

Exactly how many homeless people were made to leave the courthouse grounds is uncertain but there weren’t any tents or other signs of unhoused people at Tuesday’s press conference.

“I couldn’t tell you the number of times I had to start over,” said Jenny Welles, who was homeless for 23 years before securing housing last month. “We’re being punished because we need a place to live.”

The President of SHU, Crystal Sanchez, said criminalizing being unhoused and “finger pointing” needs to stop if society is to end homelessness.

“We must sit down at the table and come together to find solutions,” Sanchez said. “Not just move people a few blocks away.”

The judge has refused to meet with the SHU, according to other news reports.

The attorney for SHU said if the court is truly interested in access to justice, it should consider representation for people facing eviction.

“In this courthouse, the vast majority of people who are facing an unlawful detainer do not have legal counsel,” Prince said. “There is no right to counsel in eviction cases here in Sacramento County. But there could be.”

According to Prince, 90 percent of people facing eviction in Sacramento County do not have an attorney. He said the vast majority of landlords evicting poor and working-class people do have legal counsel.

“Cities across the country have instituted a right to counsel. Why? Because the sanction for a judgment for possession is almost equivalent to a criminal penalty because you face injury and death out on the streets of America,” Prince said.

About The Author

Robert J Hansen is an investigative journalist and economist. Robert is covering the Yolo County DA's race for the Vanguard.

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