Political Fix (4 July, 2019)

The Shakedown of Hanford Vice-Mayor John Draxler Part II – The Money Game

On June 5 Hanford resident Skip Athey posted an article on facebook. The article had just been released by Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) an evangelical law group, concerning Hanford Vice Mayor John Draxler’s evicting a widow for her religious activities.

I was soon to discover that thousands of people across the United States were doing the same.

PJI is a nonprofit legal defense organization that defends religious freedoms, parental rights, and other civil liberties without charge.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled them a hate group.

Like thousands of others spreading the news, Mr. Athey emailed me the article; even though he vowed last year to never communicate with me again because of something I wrote about City Councilmember Francisco Ramirez. I guess he felt Mr. Draxler’s actions were so egregious that he would swallow his pride.

Based solely on the accounts of former Windgate Village resident Diana Martin and her son, PJI circulated a story how Mr. Draxler evicted an elderly, sick widow for praying and other religious practices. The PJI article stated, “When she began to cry, protesting that it was winter and that her children did not live nearby, he (Mr. Draxler) responded that it was not his problem.”

Current residents of Windgate Village say, however, that Ms. Martin was “evil, nasty, and rude” and that she seemed to be in the early stages of dementia. They described Ms. Martin as a lonely old lady whose children rarely visited.

After receiving Mr. Athey’s email, I Googled “Draxler” and found a dozen evangelical websites featuring slightly different versions of the same article. Many of the websites were emblazoned with large “Donate” buttons back lit in neon red or yellow beckoning the reader to open their wallet to help defend people like Ms. Martin.

Because of PJI’s article, the internet was flooded with facebook posts, comments, blogs, and negative reviews written about Mr. Draxler’s businesses. The articles and personal posts made sure to point out that Mr. Draxler was the Hanford vice-mayor, so as to not only drag his reputation through the mud, but to also cast a pall over Hanford as anti-Christian.

Adding to the wall built around the followers of these evangelical websites, all of the articles’ comment sections were turned off or there was a “mediator” to ensure that the residents of Windgate could not tell their story.

Most disappointing was Alex Tavlian’s local online newspaper, The San Joaquin Valley Sun, formerly the CV Observer.  He posted PJI’s article with no fact checking or corroboration.  A national newspaper wouldn’t know better, but Mr. Tavlian had no right to disparage the city of Hanford and trample on a local businessman’s rights.  The Valley Future Foundation launched the SJV Sun, an organization run by former Congressman Valadao and Nunes staffers.

After the 20 June Political Fix  described what really happened at Windgate, I asked Mr. Tavlian to retract his story. He said he would have the SJV Sun’s author, whose email was disabled just like its comment section, to reach out to Mr. Draxler, knowing full well that Mr. Draxler couldn’t talk.

And so the circle was complete and primed for Act II.

Now that PJI’s legal group and their lackeys had spread Ms. Martin’s story to the four corners of the Earth and sealed it up tight, it was time to make some money.

All the lawyers have the game down pat, so let me enlighten you how it’s played.

Your first lesson in the American judicial system is that anyone can sue anybody for anything at anytime. It doesn’t matter if you, the plaintiff, are lying or telling the truth. What matters is how effective your lawyer is in making the defendant feel so miserable and worried that they realize settling is less expensive than a legal battle–even if the defendant would win.

First the plaintiff’s lawyer files a suit at the courthouse stating all the ‘facts” and serves the defendant. The defendant then has a chance to respond but that is irrelevant. Then both sides and their lawyers go to court. The judge sets up a trial date about a year out and demands that in the meantime the two sides go to mediation.

A few days before mediation the plaintiff’s lawyer writes another brief that might have some resemblance to the truth, but is basically a bunch of lies to intimidate the defendant and get them off balance. This document is not filed with the court, is not part of the public record, nor is it subject to perjury laws. The defendant can respond in kind but no one cares what they have to say.

During mediation, the mediator, a retired judge, knows the plaintiff’s lawyer is lying but nevertheless encourages the defendant to accept an unfair settlement. The judge repeats, in different iterations, until the defendant is worn to a nubbins that it will cost exponentially more to go to trial. And no matter how airtight their case they could still lose.

Mediating judges’ success rate, by the way, isn’t based how many lawsuits come to a fair resolution.  Their success is gauged by how many cases don’t land in court no matter how egregious the terms of the settlement.

So why do the lawyers and judges lie during mediation?

Because they can.

Nothing they say during mediation, nor the briefs, can ever be repeated to friends, relatives, or the press. Its every lawyer’s Shangri-la. And remember, almost all judges and mediators were former lawyers.

In PJI and Ms. Martin’s case, they had so thoroughly ravaged Mr. Draxler’s reputation the two weeks prior that they didn’t even need to play the first two steps of the game. They just jumped straight to mediation. By 10:30am on June 12, Mr. Draxler agreed to settle for an undisclosed amount.

PJI not only made 33.3% of the cash settlement but collected an unknown amount of donations after e-blasting Ms. Martin’s story to hundreds of thousands of people.

On top of that, PJI is a “Charitable Organization.” So they pay no taxes on their winnings or donations. All this is sealed with a confidentiality agreement so the truth never comes out, lest Mr. Draxler talks, and he is sued by PJI again.

Pretty darn good for a morning’s work, isn’t it?

I’ve been on the business end of some seriously unethical mediations. So when I received Mr. Draxler’s text saying, “The matter has been resolved amicably between both parties” followed by a text saying that he had signed a confidentiality agreement, I was quite frankly really pissed.

Exposing what really happened at Windgate Village wouldn’t turn back the clock on what happened to me, Joseph or my kids, but it could even the score on the side of the truth. Whether Mr. Draxler was guilty or not, I was on a mission to find out.

I do not know Mr. Draxler and he would not return my calls. I also could not trick his faithful on-site apartment manager into giving me any information. (My bad Dolores. I’m the one with the small dog “interested” in the one bedroom.) So I was going to have to go to Windgate Village Apartments myself.

Let me tell you first off that if you are looking for a secure place to live get on the waiting list at Windgate Village. I had a heck of a time getting into that complex and finally found a hole through a construction area.

After almost giving up the night before, I found Ms. Martin’s former address at Windgate online so I knew the general area to go where the tenants would know her.

I knocked on a couple of doors and found a tenant who knew Ms. Martin well. Jessica initially didn’t want to talk as she was suspicious I was “one of them,” or a member of PJI. Once she believed I was who I said I was she told me her entire story. Jessica did not want her real name used because she did not want PJI to attack her as they did Mr. Draxler.

The next day Jessica set up an interview with Samantha at Mike’s Grill next door to the apartment complex. Samantha told me her story and the stories of other tenants with whom she was good friends. She was still visibly rattled by Ms. Martin’s behavior towards her.

It turns out Mr. Draxler did not kick an old sick woman out of his apartment complex for her religious activities. In fact I don’t even think Mr. Draxler evicted her. I think she was asked to leave because of her erratic and increasingly disruptive behavior. It seems the thought of her having to take responsibility for her behavior, or admit she might be suffering from dementia, sent her secretly moving out of the complex undetected by the other tenants.

So there are two victims–Mr. Draxler, and a lonely old woman whose children never visited. Pacific Justice Institute and her children would do well to crack open a bible and stop throwing stones. PJI should not have made money off their mentally and physically frail client and her children should have taken better care of their mother so none of this would have happened in the first place.

But there’s no money in that.

 

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