After a setback in federal court, legal aid and community organizations asked the state Court of Appeal Tuesday to invalidate the Los Angeles Superior Court's new policy that severely reduced the number of courthouses hearing eviction cases.
Maria Palomares, a lawyer with Neighborhood Legal Services, said the appeals court should act urgently to reverse the policy, implemented March 18, that would cram the county's 70,000 annual eviction cases into just five courtrooms.
Last year, tenants could go to 21 courthouses to try to avoid being kicked out of their homes. Drastic state budget cuts, however, forced the Superior Court to consolidate services in fewer courthouses.
Palomares argued this creates a hardship for tenants who would have to commute for hours to courthouses as far as 60 miles away to fight eviction.
"These barriers will be insurmountable for many low-income tenants, particularly elderly tenants, families with children and tenants with disabilities," she said in her petition.
"As a result, many low-income tenants will become homeless, not because of the merits of their cases, but because the Superior Court has effectively shut the courtroom doors on them," she added.
The organizations, including the Coalition for Economic Survival and Union de Vecinos, sued both the Superior Court and the state of California in federal court last month.
US District Judge Terry Hatter, however, dismissed the lawsuit days later without considering its merits. By abstaining, he indicated a different court should hear the case.
Navneet Grewal, a lawyer with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said plaintiffs intend to cover all their bases by filing the new lawsuit in the state Court of Appeal, and also appealing the federal decision later.
"We're pushing forward because we know that our clients are really being harmed by this," she said. "Our clients are daily losing access to the courts, and losing their homes. "
Grewal said the new lawsuit challenges the validity of the policy.
"The Superior Court went ahead with the court consolidations and closures without ever consulting the stakeholders and, under state law, they really had a duty to go through a much more in-depth and rigorous process first," she said.