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The following report by citizen watchdog Patricia “M’Ajike” Williams is part two in a series on “Court Watching.” Part two focuses on what happened after the charges against a Fulton County resident were dismissed. View part one here.
After Judge Goger dead docketed the false criminal charges against Mr. Ernest Ray Jr., we began to seek solutions for the other problems created for Mr. Ray by employees of Fulton County Housing Authority.
By September 16, the county government was in violation of the federal law which requires an Informal Conference to take place in a timely manner following the issuance of a notice of lease termination (24 CFR 982.555). Therefore, we decided to petition our duly elected county officials who make the policy and write the checks for the delivery of services to citizens.
So, on September 17, I hand delivered a copy of Mr. Ray’s request to our county commissioners during their televised board meeting. Although Mr. Ray received no response from any of the seven commissioners, on September 23, a letter was slid underneath his apartment door. The letter stated that an Informal Conference was scheduled for September 26.
We began to intensify our search for legal representation. Mr. Ray even reached out for help from Public Defender Suzanne Tevis, who previously represented him on September 8 in court. She made an inquiry with Atlanta Legal Aid.
However, when Mr. Ray telephoned Legal Aid, the staff refused to give notice of entry as legal counsel. Legal Aid cited insufficient time for case preparation as the reason for their denial for not providing the necessary legal services. Ironically, Mr. Ray was advised to attend the Informal Conference so as to protect his rights.
Meanwhile, we were heartbroken because Mr. Ray, in need of a double lung transplant, was rejected for placement on Emory’s transplant list because of circumstances beyond his control, namely his unstable living circumstances at Allen Road Mid-Rise Complex.
On September 26, Mr. Ray, his cousin Mr. Joseph Jones, and Ms. Eileen Radford, a witness to the events of August 9, traveled to the Housing Authority’s headquarters for the scheduled meeting.
Upon their arrival, Interim Executive Director Larry Haqq informed the group that the conference had been cancelled. Mr. Haqq claimed that another letter was slid underneath Mr. Ray’s apartment door telling him the conference was rescheduled, without the issuing of a rescheduled date.
Mr. Haqq refused to allow Mr. Ray to pay rent, but a compromise was reached for setting the rescheduled date for the conference.
Initially, Mr. Haqq set the next meeting date for October 2. But because Mr. Jones had a prior engagement scheduled on that date, the Informal Conference was rescheduled for October 7.
At this point, we began to believe that the government was administering disparate impact housing policies. Thus, we decided to alert our policy makers to the urgent need for the county government to remedy the due process violation for Mr. Ray.
Therefore, on October 1, I delivered another document to our elected officials on behalf of Mr. Ray.
Additionally, after the September 26 cancellation, we further intensified our search for legal representation. But, as is commonly known, persons of Mr. Ray’s socioeconomic status are unable to afford the cost of desperately needed legal services.
Unfortunately, oftentimes, a certain class of citizens disproportionately become victims of homelessness, followed by imprisonment or death, due to their inability to pay the cost for legal protection in Fulton County, Georgia.
Nevertheless, we prayed that, working through our elected officials, there would be a positive outcome for Mr. Ray. The ordeal had already exceeded Mr. Ray’s economic resources, and increasingly the circumstances were negatively impacting his health. We prayed that the issue regarding Mr. Ray’s lease termination would be brought to a swift and just conclusion.
On October 7, Mr. Ray, Mr. Jones, and Ms. Radford traveled back down to the Fulton County Housing Authority for the Informal Conference. The meeting was conducted by Ms. Shondra Hicks. She stated she was an Independent Hearing Officer, and not an employee of the Housing Authority. Mr. Robert Wade, Leasing Assistant, represented the county government housing authority.
Since Hearing Officer Hicks did not administer an oath of truth, we presumed that is why the conference is referred to as “informal.”
Frequently, Mr. Ray has difficulty talking due to his health; therefore, he took with him a prepared statement which Mr. Jones read aloud during the audio-recorded Informal Conference.
The meeting concluded with Hearing Officer Hicks stating that she would send her decision by certified mail. She also agreed, but failed, to send an electronic copy of her decision to email addresses that were provided to her during the meeting.
A few days later, Mr. Ray received a certified letter in the mail which stated that lease violation and the September 30 lease termination were rescinded.
Yet, there were troubling elements about the letter.
First, Hearing Officer Hicks had failed to put her signature on the “rescinding” document. This raised the issue of whether or not the document was legally binding.
Secondly, the unsigned letter was not on stationary from an independent company for which Hearing Office Hicks said she was employed. The unsigned letter had been prepared on government stationery. This raised a concern because there had been no verification of Ms. Hicks’ official credentials at the meeting.
Thirdly, should the Hicks Document prove to be non-binding, what recourse does Mr. Ray have for getting a legal wrong corrected, when it is now a proven fact he is unlikely to be able to obtain needed legal services for such issues?
Feeling perplexed, we decided to ask our elected officials for answers. Thus, on October 15, on behalf of Mr. Ray, I again attended a Fulton County Board of Commissioners’ meeting. I presented the unsigned document to our elected officials.
As this article goes for publishing, our county elected officials have chosen to remain unresponsive to Mr. Ray’s concerns.
This ordeal has left some citizens with knowledge of the situation wondering if our elected officials intend to govern with equity.
Featured image: Shutterstock.com
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