City of St. Paul Destroys Evidence related to Real-Estate Racketeering Lawsuits
Three St. Paul landlords, Frank Steinhauser, Tom Gallagher, and Sandra Harrilal, are suing the City of St. Paul for selective and illegal housing-code enforcement under the RICO, Fair Housing, Civil Rights, Antitrust, Abuse of Process, and Tortious Interference with Contract and Business Expediency laws.
The complaints were first filed in U.S. District Court on May 5, 2004. The first discovery requests in these cases was made on November 2004. The detailed claims of abuse put the defendant - the City of St. Paul - on notice to require the defendants to place a litigation hold on normal document retention and destruction policies and to refrain from destroying relevant evidence. The citys normal policy is to retain documents for three years.
In March and April 2007, the plaintiffs attorney learned from the defendants attorney that certain relevant evidence was destroyed by Defendants during the course of this litigation ... including the Citys Truth in Sale of Housing reports for 2001, 2002, and 2003, and all emails and electronic communications between city officials, employees, non-government organizations, district councils, neighborhood groups, public housing agency and other entities and individuals for all time periods prior to December, 2005. Moreover, Defendants have failed to produce any documentation of the Citys Cooperative agreements, police service agreements, and other agreements it has with the Citys public Housing Agency even though Plaintiffs have made proper and repeated requests for this evidence relevant to Plaintiffs claims.
Certain information was delivered from an anonymous source after the close of discovery, too late to be of use in depositions of city inspectors. According to the complaint, Many inspectors answered with the I dont recall line where, if Plaintiffs would have had the douments that were withheld, the inspectors would have been forced to recall the facts as recorded in the documents.
The Plaintiffs are asking the court to sanction the city of St. Paul. The motion asks the sanctions (to be) sufficient to punish and deter Defendants misconduct. The conduct of the defendants (the city of St. Paul) in destroying evidence and failing to disclose documents rises to the level of intentional spoliation of evidence and therefore the court should sanction them appropirately by finding judgment in favor of Plaintiffs, or, in the alternative, issue adverse inference instructions to the jury .... Defendants failure to insure the preservation of records after official notice of claim letters, the filing of the complaints, and requests for production of documents is the willful behavior contemplated by the Court in EEOC (case law) to justify the default sanction.
The Plaintiffs had requested that emails of city employees pertinent to the complaints be retained and produced. They had also requested TISH reports, Problem Property 2000 documents, and PHA (Public Housing Authority) reports relating to the Plaintiffs claim of being inconsistently and unfairly targeted by St. Paul city inspectors.
Interestingly, among the documents delivered anonymously to a Plaintiffs attorney was a memorandum which the head of the citys housing department, Andy Dawkins, sent to code-enforcement inspectors regarding the discriminatory impact of code enforcement ... It is reasonably likely that this type of evidence would have been contained in the emails from 2002-2005, the time period in which Plaintiffs claim illegal code enforcement. However, all emails during Defendant Dawkins employment have been destroyed - everything prior to December 2005.
The racketeering lawsuit against the city of St. Paul has been a long and expensive one. To date, it has focused upon the production of documents from the city and from key city employees which could be used to prove the Plaintiffs case. The citys strategy seems to be a scorched earth policy of denying and destroying documents and, perhaps, of prolonging the process to the point that the Plaintiffs run out of money to pay their attorneys.
However, destruction of evidence requested in litigation is a serious matter. That issue has come to a head. We will see how the federal court handles this one.
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From Bob Johnson's St. Paul blog later in the day:
Here is a motion for change of venue from Nancy Lazaryans case against the city (of St. Paul). If you are new here you can find Nancys story a few topics down the list titled "Another Lawsuit Against code enforcement/more lies and skullduggery from the gestapo housing police force".
The motion is telling of what the RICO plaintiffs have been up against. The courts are FIXED! There is no justice for the citizens of Saint Paul unless you can get into federal court.
City of Saint Paul then conducted private seminars with
the selected judges, and
the fact that the City of Saint Paul has effectively manipulated the
such, Plaintiffs move for a Change of Venue
preferably at a location
that is very far
the alternative, Plaintiffs ask that they can choose a judge
from the list of judges that