The Shakedown of Hanford Vice-Mayor John Draxler
In February an 85-year old Hanford resident of Windgate Village Apartments, Diana Martin, was allegedly evicted from her home of 14 years by Windgate owner Vice-Mayor of Hanford John Draxler. According to Ms. Martin’s lawyer, Mathew McReynolds of the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), Ms. Martin was evicted by Mr. Draxler because of her age and religious activities.
But according to several residents of Windgate Village, Ms. Martin never engaged in religious activities at the apartment complex but harassed and bullied her neighbors.
It is also not clear, by any of the parties involved, if Ms. Martin was evicted, asked to leave, or left of her own accord.
PJI filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing but had yet to file a formal lawsuit. Despite this, Mr. Draxler, Ms. Martin and her lawyers signed a confidential settlement agreement June 12 for an undisclosed amount of money.
Mr. Draxler would not return Valley Voice’s phone calls but did send a text the morning of June 12.
“The matter has been resolved amicably between both parties. If you have any questions please call Andrew Brownson with Griswold Lasalle Law Offices.”
The onsite manager of Windgate Village, Dolores, also would not comment.
PJI filed a formal charge of discrimination
In a press release put out by Pacific Justice Institute, “The family of an elderly widow was shocked when she was evicted from her longtime apartment earlier this year. They were even more outraged when the owner cited her religious expression and age as reasons for the eviction. Now, a State investigation is underway.”
The press release stated that Ms. Martin received a distressing visit from Mr. Draxler who informed Ms. Martin that she was being evicted.
PJI alleges that “Draxler cited her religious activities—sharing her faith and offering to pray for people—as reasons why she must find a new home.”
The press release also stated that Mr. Draxler knew Ms. Martin was recovering from strokes and a heart attack. When she began to cry, protesting that it was winter and she had no children living nearby, the release claimed that he responded that was not his problem.
Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) claimed in their article, “One of the conflicts between Martin and the management stemmed from their attempt to take away her longtime parking space and reassign her to one some distance from her door and next to a dumpster. Martin had raised safety concerns about homeless men foraging in the dumpster, so the move seemed retaliatory.”
Mr. McReynolds commented in PJI’s press release, “What happened to our client, Diana Martin, was wrong on many levels. No one should be evicted based on their religious expression, but especially not an elderly great-grandmother. We are hopeful that a State investigation and remedial action will ensure this doesn’t happen to anyone else in this community.”
“She was evil”
Editor’s note, the names of the residents of Windgate Village were changed to protect their identities
While Mr. Draxler has stayed mum along with the apartment manager, the residents of the apartment complex were eager to talk.
“She was evil, nasty and rude,” said Jessica in regards to Ms. Martin. She said Ms. Martin harassed her and the other neighbors to the point where Jessica would walk the long way around to her apartment from her parking space just to avoid seeing Ms. Martin.
Jessica didn’t actually know Ms. Martin had moved out until a neighbor told her she loaded all her belongings out her back door, over her porch and into the U-Haul truck so no one would see her leave.
“Funny that someone who was in everyone else’s business didn’t want anyone to know about hers,” she said.
When Jessica and her family moved into her apartment two years ago things were cordial between her and Ms. Martin. The relationship went sour she said when Ms. Martin relentlessly knocked on her door. Both Jessica and her husband work the night shift so many times they would not answer. When Jessica did answer the door she asked Ms. Martin to stop knocking because they were asleep.
But Ms. Martin allegedly did not stop, so Jessica complained to Dolores, the apartment manager. During their conversation, Jessica was allegedly told that Ms. Martin was actually complaining about her family because they slept past 12 noon.
Ms. Martin’s monitoring of Jessica’s family escalated, she said. Jessica noticed that every time she or her husband came home Ms. Martin would pull back the blinds and watch them. Then, as they rounded the corner to their apartment, Ms. Martin would allegedly stick her head out the door and watch them go inside their apartment.
On other occasions Ms. Martin allegedly blocked the entrance to Jessica’s apartment saying she was watering the building’s landscaping.
Samantha, another resident of Windgate Village, had her own unpleasant encounters with Ms. Martin. About three months after Samantha moved into the complex she was intercepted by Ms. Martin, who again said she was watering the landscaping.
Ms. Martin allegedly took Samantha by her right shoulder and got one inch from her nose and said, “You need to stop hammering in the middle of the night.”
Samantha said she replied to Martin, “I’ve never hammered in the middle of the night.” To which Martin allegedly replied, “I heard you at midnight and at 3am.”
Samantha added that during her unnerving encounter, Ms. Martin used a racial slur to describe African Americans. Samantha also said, “I have heard several other residents complain to management about Ms. Martin’s aggressive behavior and unwelcome touching.”
In regards to Ms. Martin being evicted for sharing her religious beliefs, Jessica stated that she never witnessed Ms. Martin engage in religious activities and didn’t even know her religion.
A few years ago several residents of the complex ran a bible study group in the clubhouse, said Samantha. She often prays with friends and said that management always encouraged their religious practices.
“She was kicked out for harassing her neighbors–not for her religion. That’s completely a lie,” said Jessica.
Both Jessica and Samantha disagreed that management moved Ms. Martin’s parking space further away from her apartment. The fourplex where Ms. Martin lived had designated parking along the side of the building by the dumpster. Ms. Martin allegedly started using a parking space designated for an apartment that was temporarily vacant. Management accommodated her until the apartment was rented and asked her to go back to her own parking space.
“She knows she is not right,” said Jessica. “I don’t know why she was so evil or where she got the energy to get into everyone’s business, complain to the management, and harass. She will have to answer for everything she has done when she meets her maker.”
Who is PJI?
PJI is a Christian-based law office out of Sacramento. They stated that Ms. Martin’s family reached out to them after hearing about a similar suit preventing the eviction of an elderly woman leading bible studies at her Veterans’ Home.
According to its website, “Pacific Justice Institute is a non-profit 501(c)(3) legal defense organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom, parental rights, and other civil liberties. Pacific Justice Institute works diligently, without charge, to provide its clients with all the legal support they need.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) on the other hand, labeled PJI as a hate group around 2008. The law center monitors hate groups and other extremists throughout the United States and exposes their activities to the public.
According to the SPLC website, “The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) is an anti-LGBT hate group founded in 1997 by Brad Dacus. PJI and Dacus have compared legalized gay marriage to Hitler and the Nazis’ ascent in Germany; endorsed so-called “reparative” or sexual orientation conversion therapy; claimed marriage equality would lead to legal polygamy and incest; fought against protections for trans children and fabricated a story of harassment by a trans student; and said that LGBT History Month promotes gay pornography to children.”
Coordinated Smear Campaign
After PJI’s press release was put online June 5, a week before Mr. Draxler and Ms. Martin’s mediation, a dozen or so Christian websites, blogs and facebook pages circulated their own version of the press release. Fox News published a version of PJI’s press release in the form of an article June 7.
The online articles accuse Mr. Draxler of evicting a widow/great grandmother with recent health problems because of her age and for her religious activities. All of the posts mention that Mr. Draxler is the Vice-Mayor of Hanford.
Criticism of Mr. Draxler continued On June 10 with negative reviews about his businesses such as from M Smith, “Evicting an 85-year old? You’ve got to be kidding! BOOOO!”
On June 11, the day before mediation, a Hanford facebook page asked Mr. Draxler to step down from the city council,
It stated, “The question being asked over and over on the John Draxler issue is WHY? Why put his family through all this and more importantly why put the City of Hanford through all of this? He knew he did wrong, he knew it would come out, why not resign from the City Council? Is he that desperate for the $400 per month a City Council member gets?”
The Law Offices of Daniel Prado said that Mr. Draxler may not have much recourse if in fact PJI and Ms. Martin lied. He said that a typical settlement contains a clause precluding any further lawsuits.
Mr. Prado said Mr. Draxler could file a tort claim for defamation and slander. “The only defense to a defamation lawsuit is the truth,” said Mr. Prado, but it would be long and difficult.
It is common legal practice, Mr. Prado said, to use a service called LexisNexis to research a potential defendant’s assets before starting a lawsuit. In the case of Mr. Draxler, who has several valuable assets, PJI could have determined through LexisNexis that it was a worthwhile endeavor to start the process because Mr. Draxler was financially able to pay a healthy settlement.
For example, a cash award of $100,000 would net the law firm $33,000 for a case that is settled before filing.
Money also was possibly raised when PJI and CBN used Ms. Martin’s situation as an opportunity to fundraise for their organizations. A large red “Donate” button was in the right hand corner of PJI’s press release.
At the end of the CBN article it stated, “Help us continue to be a voice for truth in the media by supporting CBN News for as little as $1.” CBN then displayed the logo for Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover as a convenient way to donate.
When Samantha’s friend first sent her the CBN article concerning Ms. Martin’s alleged eviction, she quickly wrote her version of the events in the comment section – which were summarily deleted.
One comment not deleted was from the CBN website moderator.
“Thank you for taking the time to share. In the midst of political, spiritual and moral discourses, we must endeavor to ascribe humanity to those that we may disagree with. In the end, let’s seek the Lord in how to pray for this situation and for eyes to be opened. God bless.”