“Public Interest” Law School to Poison Orange County

Heather MacDonald rips Dean Erwin Chemerinsky a new hole over a spurious lawsuit he filed along with the ACLU on behalf of the homeless of Laguna Beach.

The background is simple: California is opening a new law school in Irvine this fall with Chemerinsky as the new dean. OC business groups have been pouring cash into the school, which under Chemerinsky’s leadership will have as a core mission training students in “public interest” law. OC business community leaders will quickly come to realize the nest of vipers they have embraced.

This dispute is a perfect example. Two days before Christmas last year, Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the law firm of Irell & Manella filed a complaint in federal court charging Laguna Beach police and city officials with a deliberate campaign of abuse against the homeless. Shrill, occasionally ungrammatical, and devoid of factual support for its sweeping accusations, the complaint could only have been written by someone who hasn’t observed this city’s police-homeless interactions, or who is blinded by ideology.


The Laguna City Council has been struggling to solve its homeless problem for nearly two years. Following the recommendations of a task force, it is now paying for a full-time police officer to assist the homeless with getting into treatment and off the streets. Despite a nonstop effort, the officer has found only a handful of takers. The council has also approved funding to enlarge Laguna’s homeless assistance center. Neighborhood resistance, however, has blocked the expansion effort.

Such democratic process, laboriously balancing the competing demands of homeless advocates, employers and homeowners, fails to impress “public interest” lawyers such as Mr. Chemerinsky. He and his fellow attorneys want a federal judge to enjoin enforcement of Laguna’s anticamping ordinance until the city builds more no-strings-attached homeless housing.

The lawsuit is a shakedown. It raises equal protection and due process claims for the city’s alleged refusal to let people sleep on the streets. It raises a cruel and unusual punishment claim for the city’s imposition of laws of general application on the “involuntarily homeless.” It raises a search and seizure claim which seems to come out of nowhere given the rest of the complaint. And it raises a discrimination claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The 21-page complaint is here (PDF).

These causes of action aren’t going to fly, especially not in a beach town like Laguna, which (in my experience) is among the cushiest places for the homeless to live. But they are going to cost money to defend against. This is an example of what OC can get used to. They invited troublemakers like Chemerinsky to town. Business leaders in OC forgot the old truth: be careful what you wish for.

~ by Gabriel Malor on February 16, 2009.

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