A year ago the Visalia City Council fined homeowner, Abigail Trevino, $29,500. The fine was for code violations, late fees, excessive police calls to her house for 10 years and a SWAT Team raid February, 2014. The cost to the city was approximately $15,000 and the late fees added up to approximately $14,300.
At that time Councilwoman Amy Shuklian mused that Trevino’s fine should be double while Councilman Warren Gubler voted to reduce the fine to the actual costs incurred to the city. After a public comment session with city staff and police testifying to impose the fines, and neighbors and friends testifying against, the city council voted on the above amount recommended by city staff.
The council voted to transfer the responsibility of the fine to the Tulare County Assessors’ office and have a lien put on her home. With a $30,000 lien and $60,000 mortgage, Trevino’s house was upside down and she would lose it in five years to a forced tax lien sale. The city council voted for the fine because they felt it would be better for everyone if she just moved out of the neighborhood or even Visalia, but Trevino didn’t even have the money to do that.
It didn’t seem that things could get any worse – until they did.
Trevino decided to fight the fine and filed court papers in October, 2014. Even thought there was a stay on her case, the Tulare County Assessor tried in November to collect its money by billing her bank who held the mortgage. This tactic apparently worked as, without Trevino’s permission, her bank paid the lien and tacked $31,000 onto her mortgage. Now, instead of facing a forced tax lien sale in five years, Trevino faced foreclosure in months. Before the lien her mortgage was a challenge to pay. Now it was impossible.
After receiving a letter from her bank that it paid the lien, and her mortgage had increased by 50 percent, Trevino filed a Writ of Mandate with Tulare County Superior Court. In the Writ of Mandate, filed in December, Trevino requested Visalia give her money back. The Mandate also outlines why, she felt, the majority of the fines were unjustified in the first place. Trevino’s case reaches back to 2005. The Mandate claims that the City of Visalia cannot go back a decade to bill a resident for police or fire calls. They can only go back one calendar year.
To hear her case, Trevino was assigned Tulare County Superior Court Judge Reed who ordered the City of Visalia and Trevino to try mediation. On June 23, Trevino and a lawyer she paid just for the mediation, Allen Broslovsky, met at retired Judge Broadman’s office who would conduct the mediation. Visalia Lawyer Leonard Herr was in a separate room negotiating on behalf of Visalia.
According to Trevino and Broslovsky the mediation started out vastly different from its unfortunate conclusion. Broslovsky and Herr had met previously to lay the ground work and give Trevino time to consider Visalia’s offer. Broslovsky communicated to Trevino that the City of Visalia was eager to see the back of her and her sons.
Visalia’s lawyer used the word “banished” knowing the term might make Visalia look bad employing an 18th century procedure to a 21st century problem. But, Broslovsky said, that is exactly how the powers that be in Visalia felt, because they were hoping her alleged gang-member sons would leave town for good and take some of their gang-member friends with them. Herr was ready to negotiate on behalf of the city to give Trevino $30,000 to leave town and wanted her to consider it before mediation began.
Trevino discussed the prospect with friends and family, and the thought of starting out fresh was intriguing, she said. They bounced around the idea of moving to Porterville or Lindsay. But, Trevino was reluctant about staying in Tulare County because one of the people who most wanted her to leave town was a Tulare County Sheriff who lived two houses down from hers. She felt that the harassment would not end until she left the county all together. She started to seriously consider Bakersfield.
When mediation began on the afternoon of June 23, Herr had all but resolved that Trevino would be banished from Visalia to Bakersfield. The offer was written up on a large piece of construction paper and taped to the wall. It stated that if Trevino agreed to sell her home in 90 days, leave Visalia and never come back, the city would do the following: Release the tax lien, pay her $30,000, and pay the mediation fee. In addition, Herr promised that the Tulare County Probation office would work with Kern County to make a smooth transition for one of her sons who was on probation. Everything was arranged. All Trevino had to do was agree.
As Trevino and a friend waited in their private mediating room for the city’s final offer, Broadman and her lawyer entered with a new wrinkle. Trevino had been insisting all along that her bank had already paid Visalia $30,500 and that’s why she filed the case in the first place. Herr had finally taken notice. Trevino’s friend googled Tulare County’s Assessors’ office where two payments of $15,279 popped up to prove what she was saying was true.
That’s when everything started to unravel. Visalia’s offers went from $30,000, to $15,000, to Broadman saying she would be lucky to walk away with $10,000. Because Herr finally cottoned on, seven months after the fact, that Visalia got its money, and the safety of Abigail’s neighborhood went out the window, along with the city’s offer.
After a lot of discussion with Broadman, Trevino finally agreed to settle for $10,000. Broadman strongly advised Trevino to take the offer lest she walk away with nothing, which is what might happen if the case went to trial, she said. Broslovsky also did not want Trevino to walk away empty handed and felt that any amount would be an admission on Visalia’s part that they had treated her inappropriately.
There are lots of gang members in Visalia and they all have mothers, none of which have been treated as poorly as Trevino; as far as we know, Broslovsky said.. Broadman and Broslovsky also knew that time was of the essence because the paperwork had to be written up before the next city council meeting, and Herr and Trevino’s next court date with Judge Reed on July 8.
Resigned to the fact that she wasn’t getting her $30,000 refunded, Trevino wrote to Herr. In the letter dated July 2, ,she asked Herr to honor the settlement worked out in mediation when presenting her case to the city council. She requested that the city send the $10,000 to her bank to help pay her mortgage. She pointed out that this was not taxpayer money and should not have been paid in the first place while her case was still open.
The final decision about the negotiated settlement was to come from the Visalia City Council during closed session at the July 6 meeting. Because there is no love lost between the city council and Trevino, handing over $10,000 to a family they consider a costly liability was in doubt. Even more questionable was Herr’s offer of Visalia giving Trevino $30,000 to leave town. Banishing is an antiquated tactic, hard to enforce, and would probably not have been approved by the Visalia City Council. The entire process had taken many hours, and out of all the questions that have arisen during this case, one thing is for sure, legal fees have probably surpassed Trevino’s fine.
At the July 6 city council meeting Trevino showed up for the work session that started at 4pm. She used the public comment time to plead her case to the council members to accept the mediated settlement. Council went into closed session at 6pm. She returned at 7pm for the regular meeting and stayed for an hour to hear how they decided on her case.
Not hearing anything, Trevino went to City Manager Mike Olmos outside the chambers and asked him if city council approved the $10,000 settlement. Olmos asked one of Visalia’s lawyers who told him they could not comment. Olmos said that if Trevino had had a lawyer, that person would have probably been included in the closed session and would have reported back to her. Olmos did not know what the recourse was for a Visalia citizen who did not have a lawyer.
On July 8, Trevino and Herr showed up for the court date. Judge Reed listened to Herr’s presentation and then asked if Trevino had a lawyer. She said no. Trevino tried to explain the situation with her increased mortgage but the judge inferred the time for presenting her case would be during her next court date. Judge Reed told Trevino to put all of her exhibits in a three ring binder and be sure to index them. Trevino’s next court date is March 14, 2016.
What the purpose was of all those wasted hours at mediation or how Trevino is supposed to pay her increased mortgage until next March is still a mystery.