JULY 29, 2020 

Imperial County Superior Courthouse El Centro NightImperial County, the rural county in southeastern California beset with overrun hospitals and the highest COVID-19 mortality rate in the state, has allowed landlords to pursue court-ordered evictions during the novel coronavirus pandemic — despite state judicial rules barring such proceedings. 

The Imperial County Superior Court has issued notices of eviction lawsuits to renters and engaged in other eviction proceedings that violate state judicial protocols, according to documents reviewed by CalMatters. The documents were provided by the Imperial County chapter of California Rural Legal Assistance Inc, a statewide legal aid organization.

The state Judicial Council — the governing body for the state court system chaired by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye — issued an emergency rule on April 6 barring local courts from going forward with most eviction cases, with the exception of cases involving threats to public health and safety. The council then extended the ban.

“People being evicted from their homes is a public health and safety problem,” said Adriane Bracciale, directing attorney for the legal aid organization’s office in El Centro, the county seat. “That’s why this emergency rule was instituted so that people aren’t being kicked out of their homes during a contagious, deadly pandemic.”    

(Image: Imperial County Superior Courthouse. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.)

Bracciale said she discovered the issue when three separate renter households approached her legal aid clinic in the past few weeks with eviction “summonses” — orders for a renter to either challenge an eviction lawsuit in court or lose an eviction case by default. The first client who approached her office was being evicted for not paying rent after the pandemic hit, and claimed they couldn’t afford rent because of COVID-related financial hardship. 

While the three eviction cases were ultimately rescinded once court officers were informed of the mistake, it is unclear how many other evictions may have proceeded in Imperial County in violation of the state Judicial Council rules. 

Before the pandemic emergency rules, landlords could file eviction lawsuits against renters in local civil courts. The civil courts would in turn send a summons to the renter notifying them of the lawsuit. The summons required a response within five days. If the renter did not respond in those five days, the court would enter a default judgment in favor of the landlord and the renter would be ordered to leave. If a renter lost an eviction case, the courts would issue an order a landlord could take to the local sheriff’s department to physically enforce the eviction. 

The April 6 order should have stopped that process entirely, at least for the time being. 

Many renters do not seek legal counsel when faced with eviction lawsuits. Other renters confronting legal eviction documents may simply decide to vacate, unaware of new protections afforded during the pandemic. 

“I don’t know if residents are aware that evictions should not be happening during the state of emergency as it’s explained under the emergency rule,” said Bracciale. 

Imperial County Superior Court Presiding Judge L. Brooks Anderholt did not return multiple requests for comment. Other court employees declined to answer questions on how many default judgments against renters the court may have mistakenly allowed, or how the evictions could have proceeded in light of the Judicial Council rule.   

Arimai Heredia, who oversees eviction lockouts for the Imperial County Sheriff’s Department, says deputies carried out two evictions in the past two weeks but could not say whether those evictions were processed by the court in violation of state rules. Eviction lockouts in cases already resolved by the courts by April 6 — prior to the judicial order — are still allowed, as are evictions in cases involving threats to public health and safety.  

Citing the health risks of removing renters during the pandemic, some sheriff’s departments in other parts of the state have stopped “enforcing writs” — legalese for performing evictions — even in cases not barred by the Judicial Council emergency rule. 

“It’s not up to us to question,” said Heredia. “We don’t have any documents to go by and determine, that would be the court. If the court issues the writs, then we’ll enforce it.” 

Heredia said to her knowledge the two lockouts performed in the past two weeks were the only evictions carried out by the Imperial County Sheriff’s Departments since April. However, renters who receive eviction notices do not necessarily end up on a sheriff department’s lockout docket. 

In a letter addressed to Judge Anderholdt, Bracciale details that court officers told her in early July that no information about the Judicial Council’s eviction moratorium had been relayed to Imperial County Superior Court clerks who manage eviction proceedings, and that court employees had not received instructions to stop issuing court summonses in eviction cases. 

The letter details that court officers, once notified of the emergency ban on eviction proceedings by Bracciale, told her they would work on a plan to adopt the rules going forward. 

Bracciale also filed the letter with the state Judicial Council, but has not yet received an answer. 

Responding to questions from CalMatters, Judicial Council spokesperson Cathal Conneely wrote via email, “As the recipient of this letter, the Imperial County Superior Court, an independent constitutional entity, is best positioned to respond to any allegations.”

Imperial County, where one in four residents live below the poverty line, has been ravaged by the novel coronavirus. In late June, Newsom urged local elected officials to reinstate stay-at-home orders because of the severity of the outbreak. Only two intensive care unit beds are available in the county as of Tuesday, according to a Los Angeles Times tracker, and patients are being airlifted to hospitals in nearby San Diego and elsewhere in Southern California. 

The Newsom administration did not respond to requests for comment on this story. 

In recent public remarks, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye said the Judicial Council will vote on allowing courts to resume eviction proceedings as early as August 14. State lawmakers are scrambling to pass eviction protection and landlord relief measures before that date. 

CalMatters reporter Nigel Duara contributed to this story.





Science & Health News

February 14, 2023

Connect the Bay: Mental Health – San Mateo County

In light of recent occurrences of gun violence in California, Ziomara Ochoa-Rodriguez, Deputy Director of San Mateo County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, has important advice for those in need of assistance.
February 03, 2023

Connect the Bay: Mental Health – Prof. Shortell

In light of recent occurrences of gun violence in California, Professor Emeritus Stephen Shortell of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health has important advice for those in need of assistance. His message: There are resources available, and many people who want to help.
November 21, 2022

Housing & Homelessness

From Homeless to Housed: Labath Landing The City of Rohnert Park’s unsheltered population has increased fivefold in 7 years to over 250 people in 2022. From Homeless to Housed focuses on the people and institutions addressing homelessness in our communities. We hear from those designing and…
November 01, 2021

Science for Kids and Families

Peer into the world of wildlife with Critter Cam and learn from the host Tracey Simmons as they explore and explain wildlife facts of all sorts of creatures from butterflies and bobcats to owls and otters. WATCH VIDEOS
October 11, 2021

Brightline Defense Air Quality

Executive Director Eddie Ahn of Brightline Defense is a passionate advocate for the underserved of San Francisco. We climb up to the roof with he and his team as they install an air quality sensor near a busy City freeway interchange so that it can start monitoring pollution there. Data collected…
Sep 30, 2021

Silicon Valley Water Purification Plant

Valley Water Board Chair Tony Estremera proclaims: "In Silicon Valley, we believe in science!" Based on this, authorities have made a bold plan for…
Apr 28, 2021

Science for Kids and Families

Coyotes are wild animals that are fun to watch, but good to give plenty of space. Critter Cam host Tracey Simmons explains. Other videos explore…
Screen Shot 2021 04 28 at 9.51.14 PM

Coronavirus Resources

May 14, 2021

Help Us Investigate PG&E’s Power Lines

California’s public radio stations are investigating the safety of Pacific Gas & Electric Company’s power lines ahead of wildfire season. We want your help. Email pictures of the lines in your area to fires@kqed.org Pacific Gas and Electric Company has sparked some of the state’s deadliest…
April 22, 2021

Residents react to the Chauvin verdict

Photo of a Black Lives Matter Protest in 2020. (Photo by Adia White)Santa Rosa Jr. College student and activist Caitie Ferro cried when she first heard the news that Derek Chauvin was guilty of murder, and thought the dozens of marches she went to over the past year might have led to change. "All…
Screen Shot 2021 04 22 at 1.45.10 PM
April 20, 2020

Tips for Spotting Fake News Stories — And Where to Find Sources You Can Trust

Anytime there’s a significant news event — like a global pandemic, for example — you can expect misinformation to spread across the Internet. “Fake news” means stories that contain fabricated information, or information that’s based on rumor, shoddy methodology or a partisan agenda. With the…
April 17, 2020

Recursos Alimentarios Durante COVID-19

La alimentacion es una gran prioridad para muchos durante esta pandemia de COVID-19- cómo mantener a su familia alimentada en medio de despidos del trabajo, preocupaciones sobre salidas para conseguir comestibles y la posibilidad de transmisión por medio de los alimentos, todo mientras se trata de…
April 14, 2020

COVID-19: Food Resources

Food is top of mind for many during the COVID-19 pandemic — how to keep your family fed amid layoffs, concerns about grocery outings and food transmission, all while trying to maintain social distance. If you’re struggling to put food on the table, have questions about food safety or need help…
April 10, 2020

COVID-19: Recursos Para Indocumentados y Sin Beneficios

English version available here. A medida que la pandemia de coronavirus da vuelta la economía de la nación y deja a muchos sin trabajo, los inmigrantes indocumentados son particularmente vulnerables. En esta página encontrará recursos para ayudar a los miembros de la comunidad indocumentados y que…
200323 F BQ566 9001
Apr 03, 2020

COVID-19: Santa Clara County Resources

Santa Clara County’s Public Health Department is providing detailed information about COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospital capacity on several data…
Apr 03, 2020

COVID-19: How to Help

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take lives and strain resources, you might be wondering how you can help. Perhaps the most important thing you…
Mar 31, 2020

Coronavirus Resources

The coronavirus pandemic has created new challenges for communities throughout the world. Whether you need help getting access to food, filing for…

Northern California
Public Media Newsletter

Get the latest updates on programs and events.