The clerk for 1st City Court in New Orleans says his brochures about the eviction process were accurate and self-funded, but he has nevertheless withdrawn them from circulation after a dispute with the court's judges.
Clerk Timothy David Ray has responded to suggestions from his opponent in the Nov. 6 election for clerk, former state Rep. Austin Badon, that Ray may have used taxpayer money on the eviction brochure to promote his campaign, as well as to claims from the court’s judges that the document contained legal errors.
Ray said this week he spent his own money to pay for brochures on evictions and small claims, which cost just under $2,000 in total, according to invoices.
Meanwhile, he insisted there were no significant errors in the eviction brochure, despite allegations from the judges. One legal expert backed Ray up on a key point about the eviction process.
The arcane dispute burst into public view on Aug. 15, when Ray filed a petition in Civil District Court for an injunction against his court’s judges.
The obscure position of 1st City Court clerk, whose main job is to process eviction and small-claims paperwork, rarely draws much controversy …
Ray said the judges had exceeded their authority in ordering brochures about the eviction process, which were meant to help tenants acting on their own behalf, removed from his office at the court.
The judges of 1st City Court alleged in an Aug. 1 letter that Ray’s eviction brochure contained “glaring” errors. They complained in particular about a section that said tenants had seven days to request a new trial after an eviction judgment.
Ray fired back in an Aug. 15 letter accusing Judge Angelique Reed of “peeping in like a spy” on his office before she left an order with his chief deputy to appear in court to defend his actions.
Ray also warned that he would have to spend money on an attorney to defend the clerk’s office against Reed’s “unprecedented overreach.”
On Aug. 16, however, Ray asked a judge to dismiss his request for an injunction.
Karen Carvin, a Ray campaign spokeswoman, said Aug. 31 that the office was once again using the brochures. However, she said this week that she was mistaken and the brochures are no longer available for the public. She said Ray's office has withdrawn the brochures out of respect for the judges.
“There’s not agreement on all of the language in the brochures. Timothy has decided to just not use them in the courthouse,” Carvin said. “There is a disagreement between the clerk and the judges, but that doesn’t mean there were ‘glaring’ errors.”
Meanwhile, one lawyer who has practiced in 1st City Court backed up Ray’s take on the law concerning motions for a new trial.
Ray’s brochure said that tenants have seven days to move for a new trial after a judgment of eviction. That is correct, according to Samuel Brandao, a lecturer at Tulane University Law School.
However, Brandao cautioned that in two years of handling evictions at the court, he could not remember filing one such motion. The reason is that landlords can make an eviction judgment effective in 24 hours — and thus kick a tenant out on the street long before the nominal deadline.
“It’s well possible that you and your stuff are sitting on the sidewalk before seven days have gone by, and if you’re sitting on the sidewalk then you do not have the right to move for a new trial, because that ship has sailed,” he said.
Brandao said he was wary of having a brochure offered to the public with the seven-day deadline and no further context.
“I would be nervous to have that out there if people can feel like they can sit back and relax, because they're going to be sitting back and relaxing on the sidewalk,” he said.
Another legal educator said there are larger problems with the eviction process in New Orleans. Far too many tenants are mystified about their legal rights, said Davida Finger, a professor at Loyola University.
The number of eviction petitions filed in New Orleans has increased in the past few years, Finger said. There were 4,598 evictions filed in 2015, 4,803 in 2016 and 5,021 in 2017.
“From the perspective of representing tenants in this, it’s a completely baffling process. The idea that we need a brochure that explains what’s going on should not be a reach,” she said.
Unfortunately for tenants, there will be no brochures on the eviction or small claims process in the immediate future, according to Ray, despite discussions with the judges about tweaks to the brochures.
Ray was appointed to his interim post by former Clerk Ellen Hazeur after her election as a Civil District Court judge earlier this year.