ACLU Joins Historic Orange Neighborhood in Their Fight Against New Gang Injunction
The old Cypress Barrio, circa 1920
"Well maybe that's the answer. Maybe you sue the parents."
--One senior DA to another DA in County Court after they were stumped in the courtroom by a loophole in the law that might allow all minors named on the latest gang injunction, (and all injunctions in the county, for that matter), without legal or parental representation to verbally reject their inclusion and be immediately removed.
For the first time since county DA Tony Rackauckas began slapping down gang injunctions in neighborhood after neighborhood throughout the county, one of the county's oldest Mexican neighborhoods in Orange is legally and aggressively kicking its feet up in protest -- gaining some surprising legal momentum in the process.
It started with a protest, but didn't end there. Community members, parents, activists and defendants have gone to court, filed petitions, raised their ire over the DA's inclusion of Mexican artist Emigdio Vasquez's work in the injunction, and last week they succeeded in securing legal representation from the ACLU and well-known civil rights attorney David Haas for ten people named on the most recent injunction.
This is the first time the ACLU has taken on an injunction in Orange County and although they can't take on all the defendants because of limited resources, they plan on making arguments in trial against the entire injunction with the hope of setting precedent and helping others remove their names from the suit, says Belinda Helzer, one of two attorneys who have taken on the case.Their involvement is a big deal. And it's not all: Last month, dozens of parents successfully and community members successfully petitioned the court to have Superior Court Judge Daniel Didier removed from presiding over the case. Didier has signed and approved every preliminary and permanent injunction issued in the county since 2006.
In his place, the court appointed no nonsense Judge Kazuharo Makino to the case, and last Friday, in his second floor courtroom packed with at least a dozen armed Sheriff's deputies who hovered over of mostly young, nervous-looking kids in pressed shirts, dress shoes, and the occasional tie, Makino left prosecutors nearly speechless when he pointed out a legal loophole involving the many minors named in the suit. The minors, if not represented formally by a guardian (which involves an application process through the court), cannot obtain an attorney. And without an attorney and legally appointed guardian, the minors have the legal right to verbally disaffirm the injunction as soon as a judge approves it against them, and have it immediately removed.
"A judgment against a minor is voidable by the minor at any time," Makino told prosecutors.
Lead DA Michael Hernandez and another prosecutor were stumped and tried to argue against his declaration, but ultimately agreed to allow more time to review the legal code and have the juvenile cases heard on May 7.
Makino also decided that five defendants should be removed from the suit and not have even the preliminary injunction issued against them based on the evidence (or lack thereof) presented in the DA's 600-page claim. When Makino asked prosecutors if they had any objections, they said they didn't. "I think release of those five people with absolutely no opposition from the DA is telling," says Helzer, one of two ACLU attorneys taking on the case.
The judge did approve preliminary injunctions for a handful of other alleged gang members and set a hearing date for all of those added to the preliminary injunction, and those not yet added who are going to fight their cases for early July.
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A throng of more than a dozen Orange police -- the experts resonsible for all the individual profiles and declarations included in the thick injunction report -- stood outside the courtroom in a loose line like beauty queens (only sweatier), and unofficially greeted the teens, parents and community activists who left the courtroom with smirks and snorts. Smug and abrasive, they cavorted like giddy frat boys as they passed out photocopied packets titled "OVC Gang Injunction" (for Orange Varrio Cypress, the gang named in the injunction), among themselves. The packets, from what I could glean, included the names and color photographs of those listed in the injunction. After asking several different officers, (they didn't have their badges on), what the documents were, if I could have a copy and who made them, I received the following responses with varying degrees of pomp and smirk:
"We don't have to give you a copy of that."
"We don't have to tell you that."
"What? No, you can't have a copy of this."
"We don't' have to show you anything."
"We don't have to tell you what this is."
Don't know what they'll bring to the next hearing, but the stakes are climbing.