July 4, 2005
St. Louis Mayor Takes Aim at Law Clinics
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay took aim at the law clinics at Washington and St. Louis universities after the clinics amended the federal lawsuit they had filed, on behalf of homeless people in St. Louis, against St. Louis and its Police Board. According to an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mayor Slay said, "Some people are convinced the two law schools care more about generating a fee and giving their students something to do than helping the homeless." While Slay insisted that he would not "impute such motives" to the clinics, he nevertheless used his news conference to "register [his] disappointment in [the clinics'] approach." John Ammann, director of SLU's law clinic retorted, "This is not a project to keep students busy," he said. "We are representing real people who had their rights violated."
Think the Mayor's comments might have been rash, off-the-cuff remarks, spoken in haste and regretted at leisure? Think again.
The Mayor and his supporters took their attack on the clinics to the internet on the MayorSlay.com website (paid for by the Slay for Mayor Committee). In his July 1, 2005 webpost, From the Mayor's Desk, Mayor Slay complained "no good deed goes unpunished." His plea? "If the two law schools really want to help the homeless, then they should put their students to work helping the chronically homeless get treatment, jobs, government assistance, and places to live."
If history is any judge, the good deeds being punished are the law clinics' ongoing successes in litigation of behalf of the homeless in St. Louis. As described by clinic webpages, magazine articles, and press releases from at the Washington University School of Law, and the St. Louis Univeristy Law School, the clinics, In collaboration with the ACLU and Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, have already won two significant legal victories for the homeless in St. Louis.
In State v. Bonner, the clinics obtained a ruling that St. Louis’ privately funded “quality of life court” was unconstitutional. In that case, St. Louis Circuit Judge David Dowd ruled that the quality of life court’s private funding mechanism violated the due process rights of individuals tried and sentenced by the court, in violation of the Missouri and United States constitutions.
In Johnson v. Board of Police Commissioners, the clinics won a preliminary injunction that prevents “the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners from directing or allowing the clearing of homeless people from public areas solely to sanitize public places where the homeless have a right to be, because of the perception that homeless people present an appearance that detracts from an ascetically pleasing environment that promotes commerce.” The order further prevents “judicial imposition of punishment for any municipal ordinance violation before a determination of an accused person’s guilt under an ordinance has been made."
As an aside, I can't resist a plug for U.S. District Court Judge E. Richard Webber's opinion in the Johnson injunction, just for the sheer pleasure of reading such a passionate, vivid opinion. Judge Webber begins with a quotation from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities and continues in a similarly elegant vein, describing how: "the disheveled, the aged, the weary, those whose accumulated wealth is carried in a tattered blanket, present themselves in some quarters as a distraction to a desired representation of how the 'best of times' should appear." Judge Webber's careful recounting of the plaintiffs' ordeals is a moving tribute to the lawyering craft of telling clients' stories.
July 4, 2005 | Permalink
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