OPINION – This week an article in NY Criminal Defense reported that a Pennsylvania judge would be serving a 28-year prison sentence for essentially running a bogus court that placed people in privately-funded prisons for profit. (See Ed. Note)
You read that right.
If you have been keeping abreast of news and politics here in St. George, this story might evoke recollection of an ongoing matter that bears some similarities.
I am of course referring to the code enforcement court of the City of St. George and the pending lawsuit being brought against them for egregious Fourth and 14th Amendment violations by the code enforcement officers.
City officials are maintaining they have done nothing wrong and are simply enforcing the codes adopted by the City Council and enforced by the court.
Former City Council candidate Tara Dunn, now a plaintiff in the lawsuit, would disagree.
While the city maintains that the code enforcement court held at the city hall is the place where citizens cited by the city can plead their case, Dunn maintains that her experience was quite contrary.
Having herself been cited for a violation, when she appeared before Brian Filter, an administrative judge over the code court, to present her facts, she said she was told she was not attending a fact-finding hearing. Rather, she was present to learn what her fine was and that was it.
And she is not alone.
Just ask any one of the people who are contacting Bryan Hyde after his opinion piece on code enforcement last week to share their stories.
Just ask Jake Rowley, the main plaintiff in the case against the city.
Suffice it to say, this is far from much ado about nothing.
To those who would assert that it is, that perhaps Dunn is merely disgruntled for having not won a seat on the City Council, an apt response may be to take an objective look at her case.
It stands to reason, her case at least merited the attention of Aaron Prisbrey, the attorney who has taken on the case and likely would have taken it four years ago when it first happened.
But Dunn, on the heels of being treated unjustly by the city, opted to do something proactive. She ran for office on the platform of identifying with those who feel disenfranchised by the city – both in the code enforcement arena and others.
After two near-successful attempts to be elected and after being passed over for an appointment, rather than surrender the case, Dunn took it up in a manner befitting a person who will not be silenced.
But at the heart of the code enforcement debacle really lies a simple standoff.
Either the court itself is operating justly under a legal mandate and is therefore innocent of the allegations with which it is charged, and is in point of fact doing its job, or it is not.
If it is not, the court is subjecting citizens to illegal searches and aberrations of due process that could and perhaps should warrant sentences similar to the one the judge from Pennsylvania received.
You read that right.
If it is brought to light that the city, the courts, and any agents thereof knowingly were violating citizens rights’ and profiting from it, there should be prison time.
Would it be any different for you or me?
And as a small but poignant side note, chipping away at the credibility of the city from the outset of this battle is St. George City Councilman Gil Almqusit’s blatant abuse of the codes he and the city mandate.
Almquist was found to be operating a business from a rental property and had been doing so for years. He received no citation or fine. He did not appear before the code enforcement court. He simply, if even temporarily so, ceased the illegal behavior.
That the city would let this pass with little fanfare and no accountability for Almquist is painfully indicative of their mindset and reveals more perhaps than they would like about the true agenda of code enforcement.
It would appear that those like Dunn, who claim it is selective in its abuse, may very well have a point. Suffice it to say, this will be an historic legal battle in the city that’s outcome will affect us all.
See you out there.
Dallas Hyland is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
Ed. Note: Link to article regarding Pennsylvania judge updated, as previous link was to a site that is no longer in operation.
- Perspectives: Code enforcement, saving us from monsters it creates
- Unwritten rules allow for flexibility? Judge denies dismissal of code enforcement action
- City resident challenges legitimacy of code enforcement court
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