August 25, 2020
Lawsuit filed on behalf of disabled St. Louis resident who lost eviction trial over the phone after being unable to access trial by video conference and repeatedly denied the opportunity to submit evidence
Today, ArchCity Defenders filed a petition for writ of prohibition on behalf of Eddie “Lee” Logan in the Missouri Supreme Court. Mr. Logan, a veteran with chronic health conditions that put him at heightened risk to COVID-19, was forced to represent himself in an eviction trial by telephone, after he was unable to access the court’s video proceedings. Mr. Logan is now set to lose his home during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite being denied the opportunity to submit evidence to the court on three occasions, and asking the judge for a continuance to ensure he could provide evidence to the court.
The petition filed today asks the Missouri Supreme Court to set aside the eviction and provide Mr. Logan with an opportunity for a fair day in court.
“What we see in Mr. Logan’s case should trouble everyone in our community. He did everything he could to make sure he got his day in court and had an opportunity to tell his side of the story to defend against eviction. Losing your home by a mere telephone call is no semblance of justice.” said Lee Camp, Senior Staff Attorney at ArchCity Defenders. “ Today, Mr. Logan petitions the Missouri Supreme Court to intervene in this emergency situation and ensure his constitutional rights are protected. If the Supreme Court fails to act, Mr. Logan will lose his home with no opportunity to challenge the countless problems with his telephone eviction trial.”
For months, Mr. Logan asked his landlord to address the unsafe and unsanitary conditions in his home. After his landlord failed to make necessary repairs, Mr. Logan began withholding rent. The property management company, E. Wright Investments Strategies, LLC, then filed an eviction case against Mr. Logan in June, in the midst of the pandemic.
In preparation for trial, Mr. Logan gathered and hand marked ten exhibits to highlight the issues in his home and his attempts to get them fixed. He and his wife then went to the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court on three occasions to submit evidence for his trial. Each time, sheriff’s deputies and court staff turned Mr. Logan away, denying him the opportunity to submit evidence. With no other option, Mr. Logan mailed his exhibits to the court.
On August 17, Mr. Logan attempted to access his eviction trial by video. Unable to get the technology to work on either his phone or his wife’s, Mr. Logan was forced to dial in by telephone. Mr. Logan told the judge about the efforts he made to submit evidence, and asked the judge to continue his trial to a later date, so that his exhibits would have time to arrive by mail. The judge denied his request, and then entered an eviction judgment against Mr. Logan, in a trial where the judge, his landlord’s lawyer, and his landlord could all see each other by video conference, and only Mr. Logan was literally unseen over the telephone.
“The effort to move eviction hearings to a virtual forum is disturbing, particularly when the courts have failed to implement even the most basic procedures to protect the rights of people appearing in those courts,” said John Bonacorsi, Skadden Fellow and Staff Attorney. “Mr. Logan’s case demonstrates that these hearings deny even the most dedicated and diligent pro se tenant the right to be heard.”
Generally, Missouri’s eviction laws require a tenant in Mr. Logan’s situation pursue a new trial before appealing the court’s decision. Unfortunately, Mr. Logan will lose his home before that new trial can take place. By filing a petition for a writ of prohibition, Mr. Logan asks the Missouri Supreme Court to immediately review the trial judge’s action, prior to him being forced to vacate his home.
The sad reality is that there are many more cases like Mr. Logan’s. Data from the Eviction Lab suggests that 633 people have had an eviction case filed against them in St. Louis City since March 15, 2020. From our legal representation and court observations, ArchCity estimates that at least 80 to 90 percent of people facing eviction are representing themselves pro se, without an attorney.
The temporary order issued by Judge Burlison, the presiding judge of the 22nd Judicial Circuit, to prevent sheriff’s deputies from physically evicting people from their homes, until the hold is lifted on September 2nd, will not solve the problem. Under Burlison’s order, eviction cases are still being filed and courts are holding trials and entering judgments against tenants, like Mr. Logan. This means that there will simply be a backlog of evictions when deputies can resume forcing people from their homes.
Our advocacy, including this filing, is just one small part of the broader, statewide coalition to win an eviction moratorium across Missouri. Since the rise of COVID-19, ArchCity Defenders’ holistic legal advocacy has focused on clients and communities most affected by the current crisis, including the unhoused and people facing eviction. ACD’s housing advocacy consists of community outreach, direct legal representation, impact litigation, media and policy advocacy, and collaboration with local and statewide tenants’ rights groups.
Jacki Langum, Director of Advocacy
Lee Camp, Senior Staff Attorney