Here’s something to be thankful for: be thankful you don’t live in Indio or Coachella California, where unscrupulous city governments and an enterprising law form conspire to fleece their citizens. It works like this:
Step One: Indio and Coachella hire a private law firm, Silver & Wright, to prosecute citizens in criminal court for minor property violations of city ordinances. These result in small fines for infractions like not mowing the yard or selling lemonade without a business license.
Step Two: The citizens go to court, plead guilty, and pay the fines,
Step Three: They get a bill in the mail for a huge fee from the law firm that the city hired to prosecuted them. This fee is for the cost of the prosecution. Thus a fine for a couple of hundred dollars explodes into a legal bill of four or five figures.
Step Four: If the citizen objects, the law firm raises the fee demand.
Step Five: If the citizens can’t pay, the law firm threatens to take their homes.
The law firm that runs this brilliant operation is Silver & Wright, and it has been going on for years. The Desert Sun, in an investigative journalism effort, revealed this unholy alliance of municipality and law firm, and now, with public scrutiny, it just might be on its last legs. Thankfully.
The 18 cases examined by The Desert Sun come under the heading of nuisance property abatement, violations of law that are too inconsequential to involve the county’s real prosecutors, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. Thus Silver & Wright steps in. Contract prosecutions are a profit center for the firm, which explains on its website that it specializes in code enforcement and “cost recovery,” boasting
“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.”
Indio contracted with Silver & Wright in 2014, and Coachella followed in 2015. Within a year of hiring the firm, both city councils created new nuisance property ordinances empowering the cities to seek prosecution fees without getting approval from a judge. Then Silver & Wright started taking east valley property owners to criminal court. Continue reading