Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Updates about the litigation

Here's an update on the following subjects:
      1.    Alleged Attorney Misconduct/County Required to Communicate with Coalition Counsel.  We had a brief but positive conference call with Judge Grasso this morning.  At least so far, the Judge does not seem to be buying the County's allegations that I (supposedly) engaged in misconduct trying to help the homeless at "the Office" -- in essence, the place that seems to be the front line in the fight for emergency shelter.  Instead of imposing any sanctions or restrictions on me or this law firm, Lowenstein Sandler, the judge told the County that he did not see any basis, at least based on what he has seen so far, for imposing any restrictions on this law firm as the County wanted.  The judge also directed the County's lawyers to speak with me or this law firm if we wish to discuss any issues about any person who is:  (a)  referred to the Board of Social Services by our point person, Mike McNeil; but who (b) is denied emergency shelter.  This way, it is possible that the Board will back down (as it did on Monday) and change decisions denying emergency shelter (rather than run the risk of our making emergency motions, individual by individual, for emergency shelter from the judge).  Thus, please:  (1) let Mike McNeil know the names of anyone who you learn wants emergency shelter; and (2) let me or Julie Werner of my firm (whom I am copying on this e-mail) about anyone who is denied emergency shelter by the County while this litigation is pending.

For a PDF of the reply click here.
      2.    Openness in the Courtroom.  Judge Grasso observed that this litigation is getting significant attention from the public and media.  He therefore intends to hold as much as possible of the status conference on Monday at 1:30 p.m. in open court, rather than (as is usual) "in chambers," where only the attorneys hear the discussion.  The judge said that in light of the fact that the public seems to be supporting the homeless and following this litigation closely, he plans to do everything he can to be as open as possible and avoid any impression that any significant events are occurring "behind closed doors." This is a direct result of the number of you who were able to come by, even if just for a few minutes, for the first status conference.  Well done!

      3.    Legal Position of the County.  As Judge Grasso directed at the initial conference, the County's lawyers sent the attached letter to him to respond to our legal position. Not surprisingly, the County says it is doing all the law requires and denies that there is any general right to emergency shelter. "Plan A" is to get the County to do more to help the homeless "by consent" (meaning as a result of the pressure or our lawsuit and bad publicity, as well as whatever pressure Judge Grasso exerts upon the County short of a formal legal ruling).  If that does not work, we lawyers are ready to continue the Ocean County Homeless Litigation (as it has become known) before Judge Grasso for as many months or years as necessary.  If so, Judge Grasso's decisions would be at the cutting edge of New Jersey law (under the NJ Constitution and the little-known Poor Laws).

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