Archive for the ‘Legal’ Category

Judge rules in favor of Sand Creek area developer striking down almost all of Measure T, long-planned homes can be built in Antioch

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2021

The Let Antioch Voters Decide: The Sand Creek Area Protection Initiative known as Measure T on the November 2020 ballot cannot be implemented.

Environmentalists claim victory with Urban Limit Line extension

By Allen Payton

In what amounts to a final blow to Antioch’s Measure T and the environmentalists’ efforts to stop the long-planned new home developments in the city’s Sand Creek area, on June 7, 2021, a Contra Costa Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Oak Hill Park Company in their lawsuit against the City of Antioch to prevent the council from implementing the provisions of the measure. The initiative’s full title was Let Antioch Voters Decide: The Sand Creek Area Protection Initiative (LAVD) and would have devalued Oak Hills’, Zeka Ranch’s and other neighboring property owners’ land by over 98%, downzoning it from two homes per acre to just one home per 80 acres.  Measure T Statement of Decision 060721

In his tentative ruling on June 2, 2021, Judge Edward G. Weil wrote, “The Court finds that the LAVD Initiative, with the exception of Section 22, conflicts with the Housing Crisis Act and is therefore void. The Court further finds that, with the exception of Section 22, the individual provisions of the LAVD Initiative are not volitionally severable. The Court finds that Section 22 is valid and enforceable.” 2021-06-02 Tentative Ruling of Oak Hill

That meant that other than Section 22, none of the other sections of the measure could be separated from the rest of the initiative and applied on their own. The Housing Crisis Act, known as SB330, which was signed into law on October 9, 2019 and went into effect on January 1, 2020, forbids cities from reducing the zoning of residential property until January 1, 2025, by either council action or citizen initiative.

Section 22 of the LAVD initiative reads, “The location of the Urban Limit Line enacted in Antioch Measure K on November 8, 2005, may be changed only by the voters.”

According to Weil’s final ruling, Section 1 of the LAVD Initiative identifies the following as two of the seven primary purposes of the Initiative: “maintains the existing urban limit line,” and “requires voter approval to change these safeguards.” In 2005, Antioch voters adopted Measure K establishing an Urban Limit Line. Under that measure, through December 31, 2020, only the voters could change the location of the Line. After that date, voter approval was not required. The measure’s language claimed, “maintaining voter approval beyond 2020 is in the best interests of Antioch residents.”

Had the judge not ruled in favor of severability of Section 22, the city council would have had the power to move the line from the current location, along the ridgeline on the back side of the former Roddy Ranch Golf Course. However, that part of the judge’s decision has no impact on the proposed developments in the Sand Creek area.

Save Mount Diablo Claims Victory on Urban Limit Line

In a press release by Save Mount Diablo on June 15, announcing the judge’s decision, the organization claimed a victory over the section about the Urban Limit Line. Measure T requires a vote of the people to change the boundaries. That is the only section of the measure the judge allowed to stand.

The group’s press release reads in part:

—————————-

On June 7, 2021, Contra Costa Superior Court ruled on a legal challenge to Measure T, the “Let Antioch Voters Decide” initiative. Measure T was approved by 79 percent of Antioch voters in November 2020. The legal challenge, OAK HILL PARK CO. VS. THE CITY OF ANTIOCH, was filed by out-of-state developer Oak Hill Park LLC/Richfield in an attempt to strike down Measure T. Measure T included growth management provisions for the Sand Creek area in southeast Antioch and extended protections for the Antioch Urban Limit Line.

Part of Measure T was affirmed, and part was ruled in conflict with SB 330—a 2019 housing crisis law enacted after Measure T was qualified in 2018 but before the public voted in November 2020.

“Save Mount Diablo, the Antioch community, and our other good partners have been working to defend and protect the important open spaces of the Sand Creek Focus Area for years against various developers and lawsuits. This past November, 79 percent of Antioch voters approved our Measure T to give the Sand Creek area more protections,” said Ted Clement, Save Mount Diablo’s Executive Director. “In the recent court ruling, our efforts were successful in saving the Antioch Urban Limit Line, which affords protections to Sand Creek, but other parts of Measure T were struck down. We are also proud that our Measure T gave Antioch voters a voice to express their clear desire that Sand Creek have more protections, and we hope Antioch officials will respect the overwhelming will of the people.”

After the election, in February 2021 Oak Hill Park LLC/Richfield once again challenged Measure T, based in part on SB 330. The state passed Senate Bill 330, the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, after the 2018 qualification of Measure T but before the November election. SB 330 established new rules about what initiatives and local jurisdictions can do to affect housing.

The court’s ruling finds that Measure T, with the exception of the provision extending the Urban Limit Line (ULL), conflicts with Senate Bill 330 and is therefore void. A requirement for a public vote for major development west of Kaiser Hospital and Deer Valley Road in the Sand Creek Focus Area, and a variety of development standards Measure T would have required, have been nullified.

However, the coalition’s efforts and Measure T saved the Antioch Urban Limit Line. The court preserved Measure T’s extension of Antioch’s Urban Limit Line, and the requirement that any changes to the Urban Limit Line must be approved by the voters. Without Measure T’s approval in November 2020, that voter approval requirement would have expired on December 31, 2020.

“Our coalition educated Antioch residents about the Sand Creek and Empire Mine Road area,” said Seth Adams, Save Mount Diablo’s Land Conservation Director. “We saved the Antioch Urban Limit Line, built a strong grassroots coalition, established greater concern within the city council about the Sand Creek area, and received a very strong 79 percent election result of public support to help with the next steps. We’re in this for the long run. The work continues. We will oppose Zeka and Richfield, defend Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve and Deer Valley Regional Park, and work to ensure that more of the Sand Creek area is protected.”

What Is SB 330?

SB 330 was signed into law by Governor Newsom in October 2019. It’s designed to speed up housing construction in California during the next half-decade by slashing the time it takes to obtain building permits, limiting fee increases on housing applications, and barring local governments from reducing the number of homes that can be built. Although it’s meant to encourage affordable housing, Antioch already provides more affordable housing than most cities.

The Antioch coalition qualified our initiative, and the Antioch City Council adopted it, long before SB 330 was signed into law. It was only because of lawsuits from developers Zeka Group and Oak Hill Park LLC/Richfield that our initiative was delayed until a judge sent our initiative to the November 2020 ballot, where we won in a 79 percent landslide. But by then, SB 330 had been signed.

Because of all this, we’ve known that some parts of Measure T might be struck down in court, and other parts might be “severed” and survive. Based on the court’s tentative ruling, that’s what’s happened.

Summary

Measure T has saved the Antioch Urban Limit Line. However, the rest of the initiative was struck down.

—————–

No Decision on Possible Appeal

Asked if Save Mount Diablo planned to appeal the judge’s decision, Adams responded, “No decision has been made. Can’t say at this point.”

City Council Discusses Lawsuit

During a special Conference with Legal Counsel on Tuesday, June 22, 2021, the Antioch City Council discussed the case of Oak Hill Park Company, vs. the City of Antioch, Contra Costa County Superior Court, Case No. N21-0048.

However, City Attorney Thomas Lloyd Smith said, “There was no reportable action on the item.”

Oak Hill Park Company Responds

In response to their lawsuit victory, Oak Hill Park Company’s attorney, Alicia Guerra, issued the following statement: “Oak Hill Park Company appreciates the Court’s thoughtful ruling invalidating almost every provision of the Initiative under the Housing Crisis Act, and looks forward to working with the City in the future.”

Oak Hill plans a 370-home project known as Bridle Hills, south of the 1,177-home The Ranch project approved by the city council, last year. The neighboring 338-home project, known as Zeka Ranch is planned for 200 of the 640 acres of the former Higgins Ranch property located on the closed Empire Mine Road, adjacent to the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve.

History of Sand Creek Area and Urban Limit Line

Plans for new homes in the Sand Creek area, formerly known as Future Urban Area-1 (FUA-1), have been underway since developers purchased the land in the 1990’s following voter adoption of the county-wide Urban Limit Line (ULL) in 1990, protecting 65% of the land in the county from subdivision development. In 2003, the Antioch City Council reduced the total number of homes allowed in the Sand Creek area from over 8,900 to 4,000. Of that figure, approximately 877 homes remain to be approved and built west of Deer Valley Road, which is the area the initiative would have affected. Another 640 homes planned for the Roddy Ranch development will no longer be built since that land was sold by Jack Roddy and his partners to the East Bay Regional Parks District several years ago, and is currently referred to as Deer Valley Regional Park.

In 2006 County voters passed Measure L, which extended the term of the ULL through 2026 and required a 2016 review to determine whether enough capacity existed inside the ULL to accommodate jobs and housing growth through 2036. The location of the county’s line matches that of the City of Antioch’s ULL.

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New law clinic for low-wage workers to open in Antioch Tuesday

Tuesday, May 25th, 2021

Legal Aid at Work and Grace Bible Fellowship of Antioch team up to provide free legal services in Contra Costa County

Legal Aid at Work and Grace Bible Fellowship of Antioch are pleased to announce the launch of Legal Aid at Work’s newest location of the Workers’ Rights Clinic, devoted to employment law protections for all low-income workers. The clinic will launch on May 25, 2021, providing over-the-phone consultations. Thereafter, the clinic will operate every fourth Tuesday of the month. The Clinic will add in-person services, located at 3415 Oakley Road in Antioch. It will operate in accordance with state and local guidance related to COVID-19. People in need of assistance may call (925) 522-2017 to make an appointment.

“Antioch is one of the largest cities in Contra Costa County and has one of the highest populations of low-income, Black workers in California,” said DeCarol Davis, Legal Aid at Work’s Director of Community Legal Services. “It has gone unseen and underserved for too long. We are trying to change that.”

Grace Bible Fellowship and Legal Aid at Work, two well-respected, service-driven institutions, open the clinic to provide free and confidential legal assistance to low-wage workers who are subjected to illegal practices on the job.

The clinic will help workers with problems such as minimum wage and overtime violations, failure to pay for work performed, or refusal to grant meal and rest breaks. The clinic will also provide counsel to clients regarding workplace discrimination based upon race, national origin, gender, pregnancy, disability, language proficiency and immigration status, and will offer information regarding unemployment compensation filings and appeals. Finally, the clinic will handle inquiries from employees affected by the COVID-19 pandemic at their workplace.

The institutions that have joined to make this new clinic possible are each committed to providing access to justice to those who are least able to secure it. Grace Bible Fellowship of Antioch, a historically Black church, is a central institution in the Antioch community, providing a safe space for community members to gather in fellowship. Through its 27-need-based programs and ministries, the church has served a key role in enriching the Antioch community and providing resources for families to thrive.

“I am glad Grace Bible Fellowship of Antioch has the opportunity to partner with Legal Aid and their team of attorneys,” said Pastor Kirkland Smith. “Our community-based focus, and their heart for the least of these is a perfect match for our community residents.”

Legal Aid at Work has represented low-income workers with employment law problems for nearly 50 years, relying on law students and volunteer supervising attorneys who practice in the field of employment law to deliver expert guidance and advice to clients. This is the first time the collaborative model used for Legal Aid at Work’s Clinic will be employed in Contra Costa County.

The new Antioch location of the Workers’ Rights Clinic was made possible by the generous support of the Arthur and Charlotte Zitrin Foundation.

 

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California court rules in favor of churches, sets state-wide injunction against Newsom’s “discriminatory restrictions”

Monday, May 24th, 2021

Governor must pay $1.35 million to reimburse churches’ attorney’s fees and costs

Photo courtesy of Liberty Counsel

By Liberty Counsel

On Monday, May 17, 2021 a California District Court entered an order approving Liberty Counsel’s settlement of the lawsuit on behalf of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry against California Gov. Gavin Newsom. The full and final settlement was approved today the District Court and thus is the first state-wide permanent injunction in the country against COVID restrictions on churches and places of worship.

This is the first state-wide permanent injunction in the country against COVID restrictions on churches and places of worship. Under the agreed state-wide permanent injunction, all California churches may hold worship without discriminatory restrictions.

Under the settlement, California may no longer impose discriminatory restrictions upon houses of worship. The governor must also pay Liberty Counsel $1,350,000 to reimburse attorney’s fees and costs.

The settlement references several Supreme Court opinions, including Harvest Rock Church v. Newsom, that include a long list of similar nonreligious activity the High Court set forth as comparable gatherings. These include grocery stores, warehouses, big box stores, transportation, infrastructure, telecommunications, and much more. In other words, churches and places of worship may never again have discriminatory restrictions placed on them that are not equally applied to a long list of “critical infrastructure” or “essential services” as outlined in several Supreme Court precedents cited in the settlement agreement.

Pastor Ché Ahn, founder of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry, received a letter from the Pasadena Criminal Prosecutor threating him, the staff, and anyone who attends church with daily criminal charges each up to one year in prison, and daily fines of $1,000. Despite this intense opposition, Pastor Ahn stood against these unconstitutional executive orders. He risked criminal charges and fines, as did those who worked for the church and those who attended. Thanks to his leadership, every church in California is now free.

Newsom originally imposed the most severe restrictions on churches and even home Bible studies and worship in the nation. Now after multiple reprimands from the U.S. Supreme Court, including two on behalf of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry, Gov. Newsom will be the first governor in America to have a permanent injunction against him on behalf of houses of worship.

This case involved three emergency injunctions pending appeal at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, two oral arguments before a panel of three judges, two orders from the U.S. Supreme Court, including an injunction pending appeal issued by the High Court on February 5, 2021.

The timeline for actions regarding California’s worship restrictions include:

March 19, 2020 – May 25, 2020: No Worship

May 26, 2020 – July 12, 2020: 25 percent capacity but no more than 100 people

July 13, 2020 – April 8, 2021: No worship for over 90 percent of California

April 9, 2021 – April 12, 2021: Restrictions on home Bible study lifted but not on singing and chanting

April 13, 2021 – May 9, 2021: Mandatory attendance limits are lifted

May 17, 2021 – and Forever: Discriminatory restrictions on churches permanently removed

Under the settlement agreement, discriminatory restrictions on worship and religious gatherings may no longer be applied to churches and places of worship.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court granted an emergency petition for an injunction pending appeal on behalf of New York City synagogues and Roman Catholic churches in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo and Agudath Israel v. Cuomo. On December 3, 2020, the High Court granted the petition by Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry, setting aside all the lower court orders and directing them to follow its ruling in Roman Catholic Dioceses. When the lower courts refused to strike down California’s restrictions, the case returned to the Supreme Court.

On February 5, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry by enjoining California’s total ban on indoor worship. This was the second time Liberty Counsel appealed to the High Court on behalf of these churches. The ruling also included South Bay United Pentecostal Church.

On April 9, the U.S. Supreme Court granted an emergency injunction pending appeal in Tandon v. Newsom and ruled that Gov. Newsom’s restrictions on home Bible study and worship violate the First Amendment.

Pastor Ché Ahn said, “This is a momentous day for churches in America! After nearly a yearlong battle defending our religious freedoms, our lawsuit has reached a permanent settlement in our favor. I am thrilled to see the complete reversal of the last discriminatory restrictions against churches in California, knowing this case will act as a precedent, not only in our state, but also in our nation. We are incredibly grateful to our attorney Mat Staver and to Liberty Counsel for their relentless support and fierce determination. Most of all, we give all the glory to God for moving mightily in this historic season!”

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Governor Gavin Newsom’s COVID restrictions intentionally discriminated against churches while providing preferential treatment to many secular businesses and gatherings. The Supreme Court intervened multiple times to provide relief. California may never again place discriminatory restrictions on churches and places of worship. Gov. Gavin Newsom has now been permanently quarantined and may not violate the First Amendment rights of churches and places of worship again. We are grateful for Pastor Ché Ahn, Harvest Rock Church, and Harvest International Ministry. Pastor Ahn’s leadership and courage has toppled the tyranny and freed every pastor and church in California.”

 

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Contra Costa Supervisors defer action on Assessor Kramer’s $325K legal cost claim; sets stage for new court battle

Wednesday, April 28th, 2021

Approve temporary Antioch Library closure until May 31 for improvements; $233 million Regional Action Plan for unsheltered homeless; ban retractable dog leashes

Contra Costa County Assessor Gus Kramer.

By Daniel Borsuk

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors decided in closed session on Tuesday, April 27, 2021 to take “no action” on County Assessor Gus Kramer’s claim to pay him $325,000 in legal fees stemming from a misconduct trial that was declared a mistrial in November in Superior Court.

“This is going to cost the county much more money,” commented Kramer, who was unaware of the supervisors’ executive session decision when contacted by the Contra Costa Herald.

The supervisors’ inaction on his claim means Kramer will appeal the executive session “no decision” to Superior Court.

In his claim, Kramer says former Contra Costa County Administrator David Twa had told him on several occasions that the attorney costs for the misconduct trial would be paid by the county.

“I took him (i.e., Twa) at his word,” the 70-year-old Kramer said. “He said this to me up to 10 different times. Just how a person, who was responsible for managing the county’s money, can make promises like that and then the county does not come through with the money?”

Twa, who retired as Contra Costa County Administrator earlier this year and returned to his native Minnesota, continues to work as a consultant on the county’s redistricting that needs to be completed by the end of this year. Supervisors honored Twa by dedicating the new 3 1/2-story, 72,000 square foot administration building in Martinez in his name.

Supervisors did not comment on their executive session decision on Tuesday, especially District 5 Supervisor Federal Glover of Pittsburg, who when contacted by the Contra Costa Herald, refrained from issuing any remarks other than informing this reporter on the board’s executive board decision on the Kramer claim.

Glover defeated Kramer in last November’s election for the supervisorial District 5 seat,  and is currently serving his sixth four-year term as a county supervisor, the longest tenure of any current member of the board.

Approve Temporary Antioch Library Closure

Supervisors approved the temporary closure of the Antioch Library to the public from April 21 through May 31 so that Public Works workers can paint the interior of the library and install new carpet and new shelving. The library is slated to reopen on Tuesday, June 1.

“Although initially planned to take place the prior fiscal year, the improvements were postponed for several months due to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said County Librarian Alison McKee. “Despite the initial delay, shelving has been purchased and scheduled for installation, and work requests have been submitted for Public Works for the paint and carpet work.”

During the closure, Antioch library staff will be temporarily reassigned to other libraries to fill vacant positions.  The book drop will not be open at the Antioch library, and holds will not be available for pickup. Those needing library services during the closure should visit the nearby Prewett or Oakley libraries or any other county library.

Supervisors Approved Regional Action Plan for Unsheltered Homeless

During their regular meeting, on a 5-0 vote, supervisors accepted an ambitious regional action plan, by All Home, that aims to shelter the homeless at a cost of about $223 million, partly covered by Measure X sales tax revenues over the next three years. If funded and properly implemented as planned it will reduce by 75 percent the unsheltered homeless population by 2024.

According to the presentation to the board, “All Home is a Bay Area organization advancing regional solutions that disrupt the cycle of poverty and homelessness, redress the disparities in outcomes as a result of race, and create more economic mobility opportunities for extremely low-income (ELI) individuals and families.”

The action plan is based on a statement by the Regional Impact Council that the Bay Area is a “Region in Crisis.”

Board Chair Burgis, who represents the county on the nonprofit’s board of directors, called the plan a “bold plan” several times in addressing the complex issue of homelessness in the county.

Supervisors Gioia of Richmond and Burgis admitted that any effort to adequately house the homeless will require spending Measure X dollars, a new source of sales tax revenue county officials is expecting to come into county coffers later this year.

“This is a great time of opportunity to get people off the streets by leveraging our tax dollars,” said Gioia. “Contra Costa County is a great leader.”

“I am really excited Contra Costa County is shining the light on this crisis (i.e., homelessness). This will be presented to the Mayors’ Council and the Measure X Committee,” added District II Supervisor Candace Andersen of Danville.

$12.99 Million Buchanan Field Terminal Project Approved

Supervisors approved as a consent item the $12.99 million construction of a new Buchanan Field Terminal to replace the existing terminal at 181 John Glenn Dr. in Concord. Supervisors approved a construction contract submitted by W.E. Lyons Construction Co.

The Federal Aviation Administration will cover $6.1 million or 47 percent of the project’s cost.  CalTrans will provide $150,000 or 1 percent of the construction cost and the Airport Enterprise Fund will fund $6.74 million or 52 percent.

The new building will replace the existing terminal structure at the north end of John Glenn Drive.  The new terminal will include space for the Airports Divisions Administrative staff, Airport Rescue and Fire Fighting staff and equipment, public space to support scheduled and unscheduled air service providers, office space for aviation businesses, and general public meeting space.

The W.E. Lyons Construction Co. bid topped six other bids for the Buchanan airport project to be found to be responsive and in good faith.  The other six bids submitted for the project were:

Marcon Builders, $14,489,355; Zovich & Sons Inc., $14,559,000; Thompson Builders, $14,680,000; Patriot Contracting, $14,990,000; Rodam Builders, $15,315,000; and CWS Construction, $15,975,000.

Ordinance Bans Retractable Dog Leashes

With no public comment, supervisors approved a new Ordinance No. 2021-13, allowing community members to care for found dogs and cats and establishing new leash restrictions. Dog and cat leashes cannot be longer than six feet under the newly adopted ordinance.

Ordinance 2021-13 provides that a dog will be deemed to be “at large” if it is on a leash that is longer than six feet or that is extendable or retractable.  A long, retractable, or extendable leash allows a dog to get too far away from its handler, which does not allow for effective control of the dog.

Ensuring that a dog is walked on a leash that is six feet or less could reduce dog bites to children due to helping to ensure more effective control. According to a Consumer Reports and Consumer Union’s analysis of statistics collected in 2007, there were 16,564 hospital treated injuries associated with pet leashes, 10.5 percent of those injuries were to children less than 10 years old.

EHSD Language Line Contract

Supervisors approved a $1.1 million contract with Language Line Services, Inc. to provide interpretation and translation services for the Employment and Human Services Department from July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022. Language Line Services provides telephone interpretation, on-site interpretation, and document translation services to the Employment and Human Services Department and to the clients serviced by the department.

Over One Million COVID-19 Vaccines Given in County

On the COVID-19 news front, Contra Costa Health Services Director Anna Roth announced the county has administered over one million vaccines, the second highest in the state.  That translates into 90,000 vaccines a week were administered, said Roth.

Persons 16 years old and older can now get the vaccine, said Roth.  “No appointment is necessary.”

“A million doses are amazing!” said board chair Diane Burgis of Brentwood. “I want to acknowledge the hard work.”

“I also want to acknowledge everyone in Public Health on one million vaccinations,” said District 1 Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond, a frequent critic of the department’s inability to adequately vaccinate minorities in underserved communities like Richmond, El Sobrante, Bay Point, Pittsburg, Antioch, and Oakley.

“County Equity Officer Gilbert Salinas has done a great job in closing the equity gap,” Gioia said.

Contra Costa County Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano said people will have a choice of vaccines when they report for their shots. Dr. Farnitano said last Friday the CDC and FDA had accepted the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommendations to lift pausing on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for all adults.  The region’s health officers agreed that the risk of developing the rare clotting disorder in females is extremely low.

“According to the CDC, to date there have been only 15 confirmed cases of the rare clotting event among nearly 8 million total doses administered in the United States, all in females, which translates to a risk less than 2 cases per million doses overall and 7 cases per million doses among women between 18 and 49 years of age,” a joint press release of Bay Area Health Officers states.

 

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Deer Valley High’s Mock Trial team wins three of four rounds in this year’s virtual competition

Saturday, February 20th, 2021

The 40th Annual Contra Costa County High School Mock Trials were held virtually, this year from January 26 through the final round on Tuesday, Feb. 16. Antioch’s Deer Valley High team from the Law & Justice Academy won three of the first four rounds but fell to Acalanes High in the Quarter Finals. In the first and third rounds, as well as the Quarter Finals the Deer Valley team played in the role of the Defense. In rounds two and four, Deer Valley fulfilled the role of the Prosecution.

Deer Valley beat the team from Hercules High in Round 1, the team from Dougherty Valley High of San Ramon in Round 2 and the team from El Cerrito High in Round 4. They lost to Miramonte High of Orinda in Round 3.

The team from California High School of San Ramon won their fourth straight championship, beating Acalanes of Lafayette in the final round. The match was judged and scored by former judge and current Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton, along with five Bay Area attorneys, serving as Mock Trial scorers.

Also, noteworthy, the Miramonte team defeated the Hercules High team during the same evening’s consolation match. This trial was judged and scored by Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Steve Austin, along with five attorney scorers.

The 2021 top four teams were ranked in this order: 1) California High, 2) Acalanes High, 3) Miramonte High, 4) Hercules High. California High has now won four consecutive championships.

The Mock Trials Awards Ceremony were also held virtually, on Thursday, Feb. 18. Opening the event, Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools Lynn Mackey gave the welcome and message to the attendees, followed by remarks made by Contra Costa County Superior Court Presiding Judge Rebecca Hardie, and the Mock Trial coaches presented their Coaches Awards to their exceptional-performing students. This was followed by the announcement of individual awards that were recorded by the volunteer Mock Trial judges and attorney scorers during the four opening preliminary rounds. The ceremony concluded with naming of this year’s championship team from Cal High.

“As like numerous other counties in California, this was a challenging year for our High School Mock Trial program,” said Superintendent Mackey. “Due to COVID-19, this was the first time in 40 years that we were not able to hold our trials in one of the Martinez courthouses, but instead held the competitions via Zoom Meetings. This year’s Mock Trial success was because of a group effort between our volunteer judges and attorneys and our staff, as well as the patient and dedicated team coaches and their determined students. Congratulations to all of you!”

Directed by their teaching coach, Brian Barr, California High will now represent Contra Costa County at the California State Mock Trial competition, March 18-22. The California state finalist team will then compete in the National Mock Trial Competition, held May 13-15.

Art Contest

In the Courtroom Art Contest, students participated as courtroom artists, a companion program to Mock Trials. As courtroom artists, students accompanied their Mock Trial teams and sketched courtroom scenes that were later judged by a team of art judges. The winner was Michelle Nguyen from California High School and will represent Contra Costa County at the state finals.

Journalism Contest

In the Courtroom Journalism Contest, participating students were given an opportunity to report on a Mock Trial from the perspective of a journalist. As courtroom reporters, students accompanied their school’s Mock Trial teams to the preliminary rounds of the competition. Courtroom reporters then wrote and submitted one 500-word news article on the trial they attended. Articles were judged by a panel of specialists. The winner, Nicholas Harvey, also from California High, will represent Contra Costa County at the state finals. Read  his winning article.

The honored guest speaker, Judge Hardie, told the audience, “Congratulations to all of the students, teachers, and coaches for a wonderful competition. I’m so pleased that we didn’t let COVID-19 get in the way of our historic and annual tradition. We are so proud of our longstanding partnership with the Mock Trial program. Here at the county’s Superior Court, Mock Trials is one of our favorite times of the year. And, I heard so many wonderful stories from this year’s volunteering judges. They all agreed about how seamless the trials went this year, especially adapting the competition from our physical courtrooms to virtual courtrooms. The students did not miss a beat!

Coordinated by the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE) and sponsored by the Constitutional Rights Foundation, Mock Trial is an academic event provided for high school students. The hands-on educational program was created to help students acquire a working knowledge of our judicial system, develop analytical abilities and communication skills, and gain an understanding of their obligations and responsibilities as participating members of our society.

This year’s case, People v. Croddy, is the trial of Lee Croddy who hosts a popular YouTube channel called The Right Choice of News (RCN). Croddy has been charged with two counts: (1) aiding and abetting in the commission of first-degree burglary by another, and (2) accessory after the fact. This case will also feature a pre-trial argument on the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and as set forth in Miranda v. Arizona.

Since the beginning of the school year, teams of high school students worked with teacher coaches and volunteer coaches to prepare their version of the criminal case, from both the prosecution and defense perspectives. Students assumed the roles of trial attorneys, pre-trial motion attorneys, witnesses, clerks, bailiffs, artists, and court journalists. During the Zoom Meetings, Mock Trial judges and attorneys scored the students’ presentations and provided immediate feedback.

This year, there were 18 teams from the following 19 Contra Costa County high schools competed: Acalanes High (Lafayette), Alhambra High (Martinez), California High (San Ramon), Campolindo High (Moraga), Carondelet High (Concord), De La Salle (Concord), De Anza High (Richmond), De La Salle (Concord), Deer Valley Law Academy (Antioch), Dougherty Valley High (San Ramon), El Cerrito High (El Cerrito), Hercules High (Hercules), Heritage High (Brentwood), Kennedy High (Richmond), Las Lomas High (Walnut Creek), Miramonte High (Orinda), Monte Vista High (Danville), Richmond High (Richmond). *Richmond High and Kennedy High combine students for one team.

Approximately 60 Bay Area practicing and retired attorneys and sworn judges volunteered their time and expertise to serve as Mock Trial attorney scorers and judges. These volunteers represented judges from the Contra Costa County Superior Courts, and attorney scorers included attorneys from Bay Area county District Attorney and Public Defender offices, the State Attorney General’s Office, and the California Department of Justice. Also serving as attorney scorers, were non-profit, public, private, and corporate attorneys. Because this year’s competition was virtual, there were attorneys volunteering from their offices in Los Angeles; San Diego; Truckee; and Olympia, Washington. In addition, senior students from two Bay Area law schools also lent a hand in scoring.

For all the team and individual results, visit the Contra Costa County Office of Education’s Mock Trial results web page. #cocomocktrial

In 1977, the Constitutional Rights Foundation (CRF) introduced the concept of mock trials to the Los Angeles schools. In 1980, the program expanded to the state level. The California Mock Trial Program currently involves more than 36 counties and over 8,000 student participants from more than 400 teams. Approximately 1,500 attorney volunteers serve as team coaches and scorers, and 500 Municipal, Superior, and Appellate Court judges preside over the trials.

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

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Did you receive a tax form for unemployment benefits you never applied for? Fraud attorney outlines the steps to take

Thursday, February 11th, 2021

By Newsroom Newswire

Now that it’s tax season, and tax forms are arriving in the mail, many people are beginning to find a nasty surprise in their mailbox: an IRS form 1099-G reporting unemployment benefit income that they did not actually apply for or receive.

If you receive a form 1099-G but did not file for unemployment, someone may have stolen your identity to commit unemployment fraud.

Attorney David Fleck, who has extensive experience in fraud cases, said this is one of the easiest frauds to perpetrate, which is why it has suddenly become common during the pandemic. As unemployment numbers swelled, unemployment departments across the country became overwhelmed with applications and made thorough background checks of applicants fall by the wayside.

“I’ve seen so many different scams in my career, and frankly there is nothing new under the sun,” he said. “Because these are unusual times, con artists are just using this moment as a way to take advantage of the system.”

Learning that your identity has been used to perpetrate a fraud can be a stressful experience, Fleck said, but there are steps you can protect yourself and mitigate the damage:

  1. Report the fraud to the California employment development department, https://www.edd.ca.gov/. California EDD has a form on their website to use for reporting identity theft and unemployment fraud. You can also call the EDD Fraud Hotline at 1-800-229-6297.
  2. File your taxes as normal, and do NOT report the fraudulent income. If you’ve reported the fraud to EDD, that’s all you need to do. You don’t need to also report it to the IRS.
  3. If you suspect you may be a victim of a broader identify theft, you may want to check the website of The Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit in San Diego. Visit idtheftcenter.orgor call 888-400-5530.

“Fraudsters never let a crisis go to waste,” Fleck said. “But hopefully, now that state officials know this fraud is going on in such large numbers, innocent victims won’t be on the hook.”

 

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Limited Contra Costa Superior Court closure beginning Monday, Dec. 7

Saturday, December 5th, 2020

By Matt Malone, Public Information Officer, Superior Court of California, Contra Costa County

COVID-19 cases have spiked, resulting in a new stay-at-home order for the county effective this weekend. To limit the risk of COVID-19 transmission, the Court will enact a LIMITED COURT CLOSURE effective Monday, December 7, 2020, and until further notice.

THE COURT WILL BE CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC. Exceptions are criminal preliminary hearing witnesses, attorneys, and defendants in matters with time not waived. Masks are required for entry.

JURY TRIALS ARE SUSPENDED. Criminal preliminary hearings with time not waived will proceed.

JURY SERVICE. Jurors summonsed to report on or before January 11, 2021: Your service has been completed. You do not need to call or report for jury duty.

THE COURT WILL NOTIFY YOU OF RESET HEARINGS. If your matter is to be reset, the Court will notify you of the new date, with hearings to be by Zoom or CourtCall. Instructions and links for Zoom/CourtCall, public access to audio streaming where available, and court calendars may be found on our Court Calendar webpage.

ALL CLERK’S OFFICES WILL BE CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC. FILINGS WILL BE ACCEPTED BY MAIL OR DROP BOX ONLY. The limited closure is NOT a Court holiday for filing deadlines. Drop boxes will be available from 8 A.M. – 4 P.M at the following locations:

Civil: Main Street entrance of the Wakefield Taylor Courthouse in Martinez. o Criminal: Main Street entrance of the Wakefield Taylor Courthouse in Martinez.

  • Family: Main entrance of Family Law building in Martinez.
  • Juvenile: Main entrance of the Walnut Creek Courthouse.
  • Probate: Main Street entrance of the Wakefield Taylor Courthouse in Martinez.
  • Pittsburg and Richmond courthouses: These drop boxes are available only for filings in case types heard at those locations.

ALL COURT RECORDS OFFICES WILL BE CLOSED. See the Criminal Records and Civil Records webpages for the process for records requests by mail.

This public health situation is urgent and constantly changing. Accordingly, the Court anticipates further press releases providing more details on Court operations over the next 30-60 days. Please visit the Court website for updated information.

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California Judicial Council rescinds ban on eviction hearings after lawsuit

Friday, August 21st, 2020

Following a lawsuit filed by Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of California landlords, the California Judicial Council announced last week that it will end its illegal ban on eviction hearings.

By creating a de facto ban on evictions, the Judicial Council undermined the state’s separation of powers and seized policymaking power from the legislature and governor to block landlords’ access to courts.

“Constitutional limitations on government are never more important than during an emergency,” said PLF senior attorney Damien Schiff. “In this case, we challenged an eviction moratorium enacted not by the politically responsible branches of California’s government, but rather by the judiciary. Because it attempted to codify policy rather than merely regulate the practice of state courts, the rule exceeded the Judicial Council’s authority under the California Constitution. We are pleased not only that the Judicial Council has voted to rescind the rule, but also that the Council recognized, as the Chief Justice put it, that the ‘judicial branch cannot usurp the responsibility of the other two branches on a long-term basis to deal with the myriad impacts of the pandemic.’”

About Pacific Legal Foundation

Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 39 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 12 victories out of 14 cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court

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