Imperial County, the rural county in southeastern California beset with overrun hospitals and the highest COVID-19 mortality rate in the state, has allowed landlords to pursue court-ordered evictions during the novel coronavirus pandemic — despite state judicial rules barring such proceedings.
The Imperial County Superior Court has issued notices of eviction lawsuits to renters and engaged in other eviction proceedings that violate state judicial protocols, according to documents reviewed by CalMatters. The documents were provided by the Imperial County chapter of California Rural Legal Assistance Inc, a statewide legal aid organization.
The state Judicial Council — the governing body for the state court system chaired by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye — issued an emergency rule on April 6 barring local courts from going forward with most eviction cases, with the exception of cases involving threats to public health and safety. The council then extended the ban.
“People being evicted from their homes is a public health and safety problem,” said Adriane Bracciale, directing attorney for the legal aid organization’s office in El Centro, the county seat. “That’s why this emergency rule was instituted so that people aren’t being kicked out of their homes during a contagious, deadly pandemic.”
Bracciale said she discovered the issue when three separate renter households approached her legal aid clinic in the past few weeks with eviction “summonses” — orders for a renter to either challenge an eviction lawsuit in court or lose an eviction case by default. The first client who approached her office was being evicted for not paying rent after the pandemic hit, and claimed they couldn’t afford rent because of COVID-related financial hardship.