Mayor Autry Goes Up Against Federal Judge

June 10, 2008 8:18:28 PM PDT
There was a lot of tension in the courtroom when the judge asked Mayor Autry to explain what he meant in last week's statement about the homeless being exploited by the court and the lawyers.And it got even more contentious when the mayor spoke, against his lawyer's advice.

The judge also wanted to know if the city was ready to honor the terms of the agreement or if the case should go to trial.

The mayor said "The City of Fresno will comply with the court's order and look forward to continuing our ten year plan to end chronic homelessness. However, this white collar exploitation of the homeless by the court and the lawyers is unconscionable."

Judge Wanger took offense calling the comment an attack on the court and said "It is beyond the understanding of the court to comprehend the statement by the mayor. There are potential consequences to our words."

Autry was referring to the $750,000 lawyers will get from the $2.3 million dollar settlement between the city and the homeless for tossing their belongings in 2006.

Autry never apologized for his comments and did not back down from the judge saying "I feel the homeless are being taken advantage of but I never meant to suggest criminal conduct by the court. I stand by my definition of exploitation." All I can tell you is that in my mind and in my heart this settlement is not the result of fairness and justice. People settle all the time for things that aren't fair."

Mayor Autry went on to say he had every right to speak out. He said "I'll be happy to express myself against counsel's advice. I thought we were living in America not the old Soviet Union."

Several of the homeless were also angry about Autry's comments and showed up to hear what he had to say. Jeannine Nelson said, "The only one exploiting us was the city and the Mayor himself."

ABC 30 legal analyst Tony Cappozi said, "The Mayor could have put himself in a contempt of court, possible jail time, but he explained himself, I thought he explained himself very well."

In the end the judge allowed last week's settlement to move forward.

Paul Alexander, one of the lawyers for the homeless said, "This is a watershed event for the homeless in this community it gives them something they need very badly, compensation for their losses and some allowance to find a place to live and get on with a normal life."

Outside of court Mayor Autry said, "A settlement doesn't necessarily mean that you agree with everything. I feel like the people of Fresno and the homeless have a gun to their heads and if they don't take this you will descend on them with massive and overpowering resources."

The lawyers for the homeless say they're not profiting from this award at all.

After covering their expenses, the money will go to the ACLU and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. They say they'll use the settlement to help those in the future who can't afford legal counsel.


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