Welcome to California, Home of the “Prosecution Fees”
“It’s absolutely a scam.”
California’s politicians and bureaucrats are veritable Einsteins when it comes to finding creative ways to squeeze more money from their citizens.
With Sacramento sucking even more money from tax payers, recently in the form of a new gasoline tax, city governments have had to become quite imaginative.
Therefore, some of the state’s desert communities are now hitting up residents with “prosecution fees”. For example, when homeowners are hit with code enforcement violations such as dirty backyards, they are charged a “prosecution fee” in addition to the fine and cost of repairing the problem. The total cost to them can be staggering…and raised if they challenge the initial charge.
Through an extensive review of public records, The Desert Sun has identified 18 cases in which Indio and Coachella charged defendants more than $122,000 in “prosecution fees” since the cities hired Silver & Wright as prosecutors a few years ago. With the addition of code enforcement fees, administration fees, abatement fees, litigation fees and appeal fees, the total price tag rises to more than $200,000.
In most of those cases, the disparity between the crime and the cost is staggering. Defendants who faced no jail time and were fined only a few hundred dollars ended up paying five or ten times that much to prosecutors who attended a couple of court hearings.
For example, a Coachella family with a busted garage door and an overgrown yard filled with trash and junk was billed $18,500.
Reason contributor Scott Shackford reviewed the records and uncovered some high-priced prosecutions.
In Coachella, a man was fined $900 for expanding his living room without getting a permit. He paid his fine. Then more than a year later he got a bill in the mail from Silver & Wright for $26,000. They told him that he had to pay the cost of prosecuting him, and if he didn’t, they could put a lien on his house and the city could sell it against his will. When he appealed the bill they charged him even more for the cost of defending against the appeal. The bill went from $26,000 to $31,000.
…A woman fined for hanging Halloween decorations across a city street received legal bill for $2,700. When she challenged it, the bill jumped to $4,200.
Shackford took a look at Silver & Wright, and made some fascinating discoveries. Matthew Silver, one of the firm’s partners, is also a vice president for the California Association of Code Enforcement Officers…so he is leading a professional association for government employees responsible for enforcing the laws that lead to his firm’s billable hours.
The Silver & Wright website promoting their work seems directed to appealing to politicos and bureaucrats who want to drain citizens of their hard earned money:
At Silver & Wright LLP, our attorneys specialize in providing effective, efficient, and responsive legal services to public agencies through receiverships, nuisance abatement, code enforcement, and cost recovery. We have helped numerous cities and counties throughout California achieve their goals of increasing public safety, reducing blight, and recovering enforcement costs. Our attorneys have developed unique and cutting edge practices to achieve success for our clients and make nuisance abatement and code enforcement cost neutral. In these tough economic times, recovering enforcement costs is a vital tool for public agencies. One of the most powerful tools available to local agencies is the ability to obtain a receivership over a piece of real property and bring it into compliance with state and local law, at no cost to the local agency. [emphasis added]
I will simply note that the quote highlighted above has been edited since Shackford quoted the following on the same site:
“Our attorneys have developed unique and cutting edge practices to achieve success for our clients and make nuisance abatement and code enforcement cost neutral or even revenue producing.” [Emphasis in original]
The “revenue producing” language still appears on their Law Crossing profile and on their Facebook page.
However, the line about receiverships jumped right out at me, and I went to the Silver & Wright LLP link to that topic:
In a receivership, the receiver takes total control over the property, prevents the owner from interfering and hires contractors to completely fix the property. All costs are paid from the property itself by a super- priority lien that jumps even in front of mortgages.
While I appreciate the challenges of dealing with some properties, this seems like it should be an action of last resort. Perhaps if Silver & Wright LLP had targeted real hoarders who pose some kind of public safety threat instead of Halloween decorations, I might be less uneasy.
The Desert Sun also interviewed one of the lawyers who took on the prosecution team. His assessment was cutting:
…Silver & Wright billed the defendants more than six times what they were charged by [Leonard] Cravens, their actual lawyer.
“It’s absolutely a scam – you can quote me on that,” Cravens said. “They pick the most expensive way to get the job done, in criminal court, because it’s all about the money.”
In September, Cravens signed a sworn statement in county court, calling the prosecution fees charged by city prosecutors “unreasonable,” “unconscionable” and intended “only to enrich their own pockets.”
I would like to commend the Desert Sun for actually doing real investigative journalism and targeting the powerful and connected. I am glad this type of reporting is not extinct, especially in this state.
Now, if only our politicians would turn their creativity toward finding real solutions to real problems, California might be the Golden State again.
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You know it almost seems that the only way to get the fake stream media interested in something is if you have a Republican government or local government to be investigated.
Only then dies it seem the fake stream media starts looking at something.
But in this case you deserve exactly what your government gives you. You kept voting Democrat and you keep getting this kind of crap dumped on you!
The much maligned Prop 13 “Tax Revolt” did not happen in a vacuum. It looks like the Jerry Brown Democrats are setting up for another Tax Revolt.
P.S. I hope we get to use the pitch forks and torches this time! /SARC
They will put a special tax on pitchforks and a carbon tax on torches.
Real journalism from the press? Who could have seen that coming?
This is a lot like the “bullet fee” that some dictatorships levied on the family of executed prisoners.
These attorneys need to be hunted down and made an example of.
It’s simple, really — cities, counties and states are running out of money. Much like Ferguson, Missouri used all sorts of ticky-tack law enforcement activity on the street to raise money, the California cities are doing this. The money goes to the lawyers, mostly, and whatever the cities get go to servicing their pension funds. Which the public employee unions see and then demand an increase.
As people used to say in the Depression, “nice work if you can get it.”
Although the “Inland Empire” area is generally Republican, both these towns are majority Democrat per Wikipedia.
Not really new. I live in Michigan.
Got a ticket earlier this year for not being a nice enough guy and letting someone swerve/merge in front of me so she could make a left turn forcing me to stop.
Not quite the language on the ticket, but that’s basically what the state trooper should have written to be accurate. Anyway, here’s the breakdown of the scam.
Went to our county seat to pay the fine, cost of the infraction was $10. Cheap enough.
Fee to the state for the use of the trooper to write me the ticket was $80. And you thought your state taxes paid for them… which yeah it does. Didn’t stop the state from charging for what I’ve already been taxed to pay for, but the money probably went for the Sunday doughnut run for the troopers branch.
Fee to the county for making them wake up and take the money for the fine was $40. Once again the county taxes apparently don’t always cover wages, or they needed a new chair for the office for the county exec.
There are some places that charge your insurance company for fire, rescue, police and whoever else they can think of if you’re in an accident.
Once again it seems our local and state governments really aren’t paying the hired help to actually work or do something productive – like the job they were supposedly hired for.
And they wonder why people hate the swamp.
Orwell just peed himself laughing.
The government has become little more than a large gang demanding protection money.
Our founders understood this, government always becomes an extortion racket. They gave us a government designed to give us a chance to keep this from happening. We failed.
Build a fence around this place and keep all the people there. No one is allowed to leave until they figure out the connection between their votes and these policies.