New Court Filing: San Francisco Attempts to ‘Judge Shop’ In Homelessness Case

Photo by Fredrick Lee on Unsplash

Hoping to move the case to a different judge, group alleges the City inappropriately asked the court to re-open a COVID-era case that was closed in 2020

Special to the Vanguard

San Francisco, CA- Attorneys representing the Coalition on Homelessness and a group of individuals suing San Francisco over its treatment of unhoused residents filed a brief on Tuesday with the US District Court for the Northern District of California in opposition to San Francisco’s request to move the current Coalition on Homelessness case out of Chief Magistrate Judge Ryu’s courtroom.

In a filing last week, the City claimed that the current case is “related” to a case that was dismissed and closed three years ago, College of the Law v. City of San Francisco and that the Coalition case should be reassigned to the judge who handled the earlier case.

In response, attorneys for the Coalition on Homelessness argue that San Francisco cannot seek to “relate” the two cases now because they are fundamentally different, and because the City has waited too long to file the request.

In a release from the plaintiffs, they note, “The City did not seek to move the Coalition case until after receiving a series of adverse rulings from Judge Ryu.”

According to their release, “Existing case law makes it clear that cases cannot be related this far along—and certainly not to escape prior judicial rulings.”

“After a series of losses, it’s not surprising that the City is unhappy with the way its case has been going,” said John Do, senior staff attorney with ACLU of Northern California, who represents the Coalition on Homelessness in this case. “But that does not give the City the right to try to pick a different judge.”

The release noted, “The UC Law case was closed three years ago, and its injunction expired after the City ended the COVID-19 emergency declaration. And even the UC Law Plaintiffs have acknowledged that there is no conflict between the injunction in their case and Judge Ryu’s preliminary injunction.”

They add, “Injunctions in both cases encourage the City to make real offers of shelter and housing to unhoused individuals to immediately improve street homelessness conditions.”

But the group says, this is where the similarities between the two cases end.

“The UC Law case was exclusively about street conditions in the Tenderloin during the COVID-19 emergency,” they point out.

On the other hand, “the Coalition on Homelessness case includes different parties and claims and addresses San Francisco’s mass criminalization of homelessness, illegal destruction of property, and violation of the civil rights of impoverished San Franciscans citywide. Unlike the UC Law case, the Coalition case is in active litigation. “

As noted in the filing, “The City is clearly frustrated by Judge Ryu’s rulings in COH (Coalition on Homelessness), including the preliminary injunction…and the recent order accelerating the trial date. It has complained loudly and often about these rulings.”

According to the release, “The City’s motion to relate these cases is just the latest in a series of attempts to avoid a federal court order that holds the City to account for persistently failing to follow its own policies to address homelessness—to the frustration of all San Franciscans, housed and unhoused, as well as taxpayers who are forced to fund the City’s costly and ineffective approach.”

“Rather than seriously addressing the issues raised in our lawsuit, San Francisco continues to waste time and resources with misguided legal maneuvering,” said Zal K. Shroff, acting legal director, Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and one of the attorneys representing the Coalition on Homelessness. “The fact is that if they had a strong case, they wouldn’t be looking for a different judge. We need our political leaders to start taking real steps to address street homelessness in our city. That starts with affordable housing.”

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