Dismissed


root - Posted on 05 November 2002

A low-income African-American family fights an unjust, no cause eviction and WINS!

by Liz Rodda/PoorNewsNetwork

One by one the land assets of Beatrice Sloan seem to have vanished from beneath her. Thirty years a dishwasher, she labored tirelessly to one day relieve her family of poverty. A nearly implausible task for one person, Mrs. Sloan succeeded in both buying and maintaining four homes for her family. A woman of incredible self-sacrifice, life began to take its toll on her aged body and she grew seriously ill. A court date was set concerning her health for which her daughter and conservator would never be informed of in time. As a result, Alameda County Social Services assigned her to the Excell Nursing Home as well as public guardian and estate manager/ investigator, Alfred Fischer. Instead of allowing her own family to care for her, the Social Services Department decided to assign a nurse for which Fischer then sold their property as "payment". With only two properties left, Mrs. Sloan’s family was never given so much notice as a "for sale sign" in Fischer’s sale of their mother’s property.

Life grew increasingly hostile for the Sloans. They were soon informed that Mr. Fischer intended to evict them from home on the basis that their living quarters were "unhealthy" due to lack of sufficient space. What Alfred Fischer apparently fails to realize is that a small home beats homelessness any day. As Mr. Sloan put it, "we don’t have no where to go… that is why I see so many homeless people on the street." Without a lawyer or any desperately needed defense, the Sloans attended their first hearing, for which they stated their case, "We are here to take over the conservator of person." The court returned, "I am afraid you can’t do that today. You can state your objection to the county taking over conservator of person which they are filing for, but you would have to file a formal petition to the court with your objections." POOR Magazine co-founder Lisa Gray-Garcia, a.k.a. Tiny, along with several other PNN staff writers who appeared in court with the family, "Your honor this family cannot do these legal documents themselves- they need a lawyer appointed to the case." A chilling answer in response, the judge replied that an attorney was not to be required to be assigned for the case.

A second serious concern arose as Lisa implored, "what about the fact that Mrs. Sloan is being abused by the care facility she is in?" For the duration of her stay at the Excell Nursing Home, Mrs. Sloan has received negligence and abuse, much to the Sloan’s horror. The judge responded, "I am not able to deal with an elder abuse case but the family should contact the County Council’s office about that." The fact is they have repetitively contacted the Councils office with absolutely no success in the issue’s address. The judge continued that a new date would be set for July 13th by which they would be able to file objections or petition to become conservator of person by June 20th.

I was with the Sloan family on the morning of the hearing, sitting alongside them in the confining square room. Their faces contorted as they acknowledged the possibility of their homelessness and the abuse their mother was facing without the "authority" to care for her. Despite the circumstances, the Sloans appeared a beautiful unit. Their close family attachment gave them strength that appeared nowhere else in the courtroom. I felt honored to be there with them and to shake their hands. However bleak life seemed, the Sloans are a family who make it through with grace.

This past Thursday POOR Media members gathered in a tight circle for the POOR Magazine newsroom group session. Tiny’s voice filled the room as she commenced the meeting. "I have news on the Sloans" she began. We held our breath, braced for the worst-case. A brilliant smile spread across Tiny’s face as she revealed, "Their eviction has been dismissed!" The room stirred with disbelief, which became thrill. Tiny spoke over our excitement "At POOR we don't just report, we support. That is why we have this victory!" At POOR Magazine, we report on people in poverty who are in crisis. It is not just enough to write a story about poor folks. In the Sloans case, POOR members appeared in court, advocated at the nursing home, protested, wrote stories, made endless telephone calls, organized with other agencies. As new problems arose concerning the Sloan’s eviction, POOR Magazine advocates got them a lawyer. "For poor people there are no lawyers," Dee declared solemnly, "so this is the Most Herculean of tasks, but we did it cause they CANNOT be evicted! Then all of our work would be for Naught!" The dismissal was something wonderfully rare as Tiny and mother, Dee, had been evicted twenty-one times without one successful dismissal.

The question at POOR became "just how did the dismissal come about?" Hence, my research began. I contacted Leo Stegman, POOR Magazine alumni organizer and revolutionary of East Bay Community Law Center who had helped represent the Sloans. Here, he like many other lawyers works tirelessly to defend low-income people in cases involving eviction, government benefits, and AIDS law. I was greeted with an amiable, rather hoarse, "Hello, how are you… it has been one long week for me." Eviction case after eviction case, it took Mr. Stegman a moment to recall the details of the Sloan Case as he pulled up their files. He was more than willing to inform me of all they had gone through to receive the dismissal. "In most cases" he explained, "if you can get an attorney you have a much better chance. Still, the proceeding for an eviction case moves faster than any type of civil lawsuit. You must follow strict requirements, otherwise you will fail." His voice was rough but extremely decisive. I could imagine his lips moving forcefully into the receiver as he enunciated each word. He continued on to the specifics of the Sloans case. Apparently, the Sloans had filed a demur on the account that the rent had failed to list the rental amount on the thirty-day notice. In Oakland, it is law to list this dollar amount under municipal code A22-100E. The Sloan’s landlords had failed to follow these strict statuary requirements. Mr. Stegman continued to relay the information thoroughly, "If you are given civil code section 146 notice, termination of tenancy without cause, you are required to put the rental cost." Oakland requires one to list the rent so it is impossible to raise rents high for the next tenant. According to the 1946 notice, you are barred for two years to raise rent. "The demur was therefore granted." He concluded, however, that this would most likely not be the last of it for the Sloans. "It wouldn’t surprise me if the Sloans received another thirty-day notice." I sighed in harmony with him. As Mr. Stegman continued to inform me, the court has not yet decided the case’s mass. Therefore, the possibility of retaliatory eviction is likely.

Despite this prospect, the Sloan family is relieved at this primary dismissal. I telephoned Javlyn Woods of the Sloan family several days ago, first congratulating them on the dismissal. "Thank you," her voice saccharine and smooth. I continued to ask her the details of her part in the situation and how she was feeling along with her family. "Basically, we turned in a demur and some things were wrong with the actual eviction… the judge must have seen there was something wrong," she began "but let me give you to my father, he knows more." For several minutes I was entertained by the sounds of children’s laughter until Scott Sloan’s voice erupted on the telephone with a bellowing hello. Without delay, he began to unfold the further details of what he knew of the case, "I went down in person because I couldn’t read so well and they told me the judge threw it all out. They wouldn’t tell me why. That was it." His voice hissed from the anger of not knowing the details of his own situation. "I am paying to stay in my mom’s house and they are trying to move me out." He revealed to me he was sure they only intended to sell it. "We would have been out cold."

Scott Sloan disclosed another disturbing piece, "My brother and I are taking care of our father (at home) and they are trying to do the same thing to him. Where ever we are going we are taking him with us." Mr. Sloan meant what he said. It was obvious he wasn’t about to take any more bullshit. Early on in the assignment of the health care of Mrs. Sloan, "They moved my mother from the hospital to a nursing home without telling us." Mr. Sloan and his family were going to see her one Monday when they discovered, much to their alarm, that she had been moved one Friday night without so much as informing them. "We still don’t where her money went (from her properties sold) even after I got a court order for them to tell me." Mr. Sloan took a breath and calmed himself, "We don’t know why. The judge just dismissed everything." The Sloans have a court date scheduled for the 15th where they hope to be disclosed further detail. As for now they are paying to live on their mother’s property and only want to care for her as a family. Scott Sloan spoke into the receiver with incredible determination, "I’m fighting with everything I’ve got." I set down the receiver and sank into the floor.

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