The city of Indio, Calif., forced a woman to pay $6,000 after one of her tenants raised backyard chickens against city code – and most of the money went to a private law firm, Silver & Wright.
The city cited Morales for just $225 but its attorneys charged her $6,000 in court costs and other expenses, according to the Institute for Justice.
Morales’ troubles began because she rented a house to a man who kept chickens in violation of city code.
“In 2015, after receiving a pair of confusing warnings, Ramona received a $75 citation in the mail from the city of Indio. It said that a city inspector noticed a chicken in the backyard of a home she rents out,” a press release from the Institute for Justice said. “Rather than resolving the matter administratively—which is commonplace elsewhere—the city and Silver & Wright went directly to criminal court, which meant that Indio police also issued a warrant for Ramona’s arrest.”
Ramona was shocked.
“[She then] went to court, explained that her tenants were confused about the legality of raising chickens in Indio, and ultimately agreed to pay the nominal fine [$75 for each violation plus $75 in court fees]. She thought the ordeal was over, but it was actually just getting started,” the press release said.
About a year later, Ramona received a bill from the law firm for $3,030 in attorney’s fees. The firm even threatened to sell her property if she didn’t pay. She appealed the fees and lost, and then was billed an additional $2,628 for the cost of the appeal.
“In the end, she paid nearly $6,000 in attorney’s fees for a minor infraction of the city code,” the press release said.
The Institute for Justice has filed a class action suit against the city and the law form, alleging the scheme is unconstitutional.
“No one should have a warrant out for their arrest and be forced to pay $6,000 to resolve a simple dispute about a few backyard chickens,” Institute for Justice attorney Jeremy Redfern said.
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