There were multiple signs of progress during a status conference held today in the Ocean County Homeless Litigation. For everyone's planning, there is no court hearing until Friday, January 6th at 9 a.m. -- the still-scheduled date/time for the hearing on Lakewood's motion to shut down Tent City (in Judge Foster's courtroom at the Ocean County Courthouse, 100 Hooper Avenue, Courtroom 3, in Toms River). We will be filing our written opposition to Lakewood's motion next week.
Today was a good day for the Coalition. First, Lakewood has now agreed to meet to discuss settlement possibilities, either informally or with a professional mediator. The preliminary discussions have been positive and constructive. We do not know where the discussions will lead, but we applaud Lakewood for its willingness to seek a cooperative interim and long-term solution to the real problem: that Lakewood's homeless, like homeless throughout Ocean County, have nowhere else to go.
Second, Judge Foster ruled that because of the public importance of the issues, he will consider a request from us for court-ordered mediation involving all the parties, including the County. We will make such a request tomorrow. Judge Foster confirmed, on the record, that the County could participate in mediation "without prejudice" -- that is, without concern that participating in a mediation could ever be used against the County in the litigation.
Finally, the Court set a schedule for progress on the claims of the Homeless Individuals and the Atlantic City Rescue Mission against Ocean County and Lakewood, including the Mission's $2,000,000 damages claim against the County. The County and Lakewood were directed to file Answers to these claims by December 12th. The Court also authorized our moving forward with litigation discovery from the County and Lakewood, including our serving both with document demands and interrogatories (written questions requiring sworn answers). All discovery, which we expect to include depositions, is now scheduled to conclude by June 1st. We continue to hope that Ocean County's homeless can be helped through cooperation, not further litigation. However, we will continue the court case to its conclusion if the Homeless Individuals have no other choice.