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Treatment of Witness Against Councilman Studied : Stage Set for Pot Plant Nuisance Hearing

October 09, 1986|WILLIAM NOTTINGHAM | Times Staff Writer

COMPTON — A woman who was arrested after police found three marijuana plants growing in her backyard has been given two more weeks to prepare for a City Council hearing that could declare her house a public nuisance.

The council agreed to move the hearing from this week to Oct. 21 so an attorney for the woman, 34-year-old Francesca Houpe, can draft a legal challenge to the city's year-old nuisance abatement ordinance.

Councilman Floyd A. James abstained from the 4-0 postponement vote. The district attorney's office is still examining whether James improperly used his influence to press the action against Houpe in the first place.

James is currently facing felony election fraud charges, and Houpe is a witness against him. A few weeks after Houpe testified at the councilman's preliminary hearing, Compton officers were tipped by a confidential informant that marijuana was growing on her land.

Sources say the informant was James. And they say James discussed Houpe's arrest with City Atty. Wesley Fenderson, who subsequently suggested to the council that nuisance proceedings were in order. James has declined comment.

James and a campaign aide are accused of vote buying in the 1985 city election through an alleged conspiracy to give record albums to voters in return for a pledge of support. Both men have maintained their innocence, but a plea bargain is apparently under consideration by them and prosecutors.

Treatment of Witness Studied

At a Superior Court hearing on Monday, attorneys in that case agreed to postpone any potential disposition until Friday, when prosecutors are expected to have completed their inquiry into Houpe's treatment under the public nuisance ordinance.

In requesting the council hearing delay Tuesday night, Houpe's attorney, Thomas Regele, said the city's nuisance ordinance raises "serious Constitutionality questions" that the council might want to consider before acting. The law carries the power to take away private property that is proven to be a haven for illegal drug activity. Regele said he also needed time to subpoena witnesses in the case.

Fenderson said he had no objection to the delay as long as Regele did not use it "to buy time" to seek a court injunction halting the process and calling for a judge to determine its legality.

Regele replied that while he hoped to persuade the council that the nuisance ordinance is improper, he would not rule out taking whatever steps are necessary to protect Houpe's rights.

Houpe has denied knowing anything about the three marijuana plants, which had been growing on a fenced portion of her yard near a garage apartment that she rented to a tenant. The tenant had moved out before police confiscated the plants Aug. 14, she said.

However, next-door neighbor James McDonald told police that Houpe herself had tended the illegal weeds and even made some marijuana sales. Houpe has denied that and said that she and McDonald have often been at odds.

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