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In Trutanich vs. L.A.'s skid row, the homeless win again

December 01, 2012|By Sandra Hernandez
  • Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich.
Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich. (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich lost another round in his misguided legal battle to lift a court order barring the city from seizing and destroying the unattended property of homeless people who live in downtown’s skid row.

On Friday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to rehear an earlier decision by a three-judge panel that put the ban in place. The judges ruled that the city's policy violated  homeless people's 4th Amendment right to be free of unreasonable seizure of their property.

Trutanich can’t be too surprised by the latest turn of events. After all, the city has been sued several times since 1989 over near-identical policies on skid row, and each time a federal court has intervened to block those efforts.

Moreover, the city attorney’s legal argument in this case hasn't been terribly persuasive and amounts to little more than that the homeless are using the sidewalks as their personal storage area. That may be true, but it ignores that, by definition, the homeless have no other place to put their possessions. And as the appeals court originally concluded, such logic would allow the police to seize and destroy a car simply because it was illegally parked momentarily.

It will be interesting to see Trutanich’s next move. In July, the city conducted a 13-day sweep that complied with the existing court order. That cleanup effort struck the right balance between protecting public health and respecting the rights of the homeless. That seems like a good model going forward.

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