By: Fred Shuster
LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County filed papers with an appeals court late Thursday to compel a federal judge to sign off on a settlement agreement with a coalition of downtown business owners and residents alleging that local government has not done enough to help remedy the homelessness crisis.
In its March 2020 lawsuit, the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights alleged that inaction by the city and county of Los Angeles has created a dangerous environment in the Skid Row area and beyond.
The plaintiffs settled with the city last June in an agreement approved by U.S. District Judge David Carter, who is overseeing the case.
In April, Carter — for the second time in five months — rejected the county’s settlement offer, denying the county and the L.A. Alliance’s joint stipulation to dismiss the case, saying he needed more “oversight and enforcement powers.”
The county then attempted to stay proceedings while it prepared to appeal Carter’s denial to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but Carter rejected that effort last week.
At a scheduling conference Tuesday, the judge set a jury trial date for Nov. 6 in Los Angeles federal court.
In its petition to the Ninth Circuit, filed late Thursday, the county asked for a stay in proceedings and an order to compel Carter to vacate his April order, enforce the settlement agreement and dismiss the case.
The county argued in the petition that Carter’s “rulings and the court’s conduct are unprecedented. They are also clearly erroneous and exceed the bounds” of the district court’s authority.
“We are filing this appeal because the court’s insistence on dictating the terms and implementation of a private settlement between the county and LA Alliance goes against legal precedent, the rules of civil procedure and the constitutional separation of powers,” Mira Hashmall, an outside attorney for the county in the lawsuit, said in a statement Thursday night.
“All of these make clear that even if the court doesn’t agree with a settlement, it doesn’t have the power to throw out a binding agreement that the parties have negotiated in good faith and force them to continue litigating the case.”
Hashmall said the court’s refusal to dismiss the case “now puts the parties in the unprecedented position of either bowing to its pressure tactics or proceeding with needless litigation that for all intents and purposes is resolved.”
The attorney said LA County has already pledged to move forward with the settlement, which would add up to an estimated $850 million in additional beds and services to resources already being expended by the county.
“The court’s rulings would only divert substantial resources to litigation that can be better spent towards alleviating the homelessness crisis, which was the entire point of the case,” Hashmall said.
Hashmall said the county has pledged $1.1 billion in additional public funds and resources to address and prevent homelessness during the three years of litigation. The revised settlement offer that Carter rejected would have provided an extra 700 new mental health and substance use disorder beds, bringing the total number of these types of beds to 1,000.
Both the county and the L.A. Alliance told Carter at the April 20 hearing that they were satisfied with the terms of the agreement and believed that while it wouldn’t be enough to fix the homelessness crisis, it should be enough to resolve the lawsuit.
But Carter balked at the number of mental health beds that would be created by the agreement and said greater accountability and court oversight were needed.
Daniel Conway, a spokesman for the L.A. Alliance, said the terms of a settlement are contingent on the judge’s approval.
“From the beginning of this process, our goal was to have the federal court overseeing the process to make sure the city and county are doing all they can, and we’ve never wavered. And that’s what we want to see going forward.”
And to whom does the money from these lawsuits going?