Thursday, April 2, 2015

Word of the Month for April 2015: Immunity

Public servant is another word for legalized crook
Few things bother me more than someone beating up on the little guy. This sentiment is no more felt than when someone has been wronged by a government entity.  I don't care if it's the IRS, the POTUS, the SCOTUS, or your local city and counties, it is a travesty of justice when any public employee employed at the local, state or Federal level can run roughshod over the rights of everyday citizens.

Of course, this all brings us to this month's word:  IMMUNITY.  According to Black's Law Dictionary, IMMUNITY is defined as any exemption from a duty, liability, or service of process, such as exemption granted to a public official or governmental unit.  

The idea for this blog came about when a guy came into our library.  Seems guy had a place in an unincorporated area.  On his land was his house and another single-story building.  Guy was looking to raze the single-story building and put in a new two story building.  When guy bought the property, the title said all buildings on the land were permitted (built to specs).  

First time county employee came to inspect the building of the new building, everything was fine.  By the third time out to inspect the property, county employee informs guy that the house was not permitted and that guy would have to tear down his house before he could continue construction on the now 3/4 complete new building.  Wait, what?!  Guy thinks something is funky (given that when he bought the property, the title said everything was permitted), hires attorney who starts to search for county permits and other similar documentation.

Meanwhile, county employee is giving guy a hard time and guy is looking at THOUSANDS of dollars in court costs, fees, and threats of imminent domain.  $50,000+ later in fines and fees, guy's lawyer finds documentation showing that the buildings were permitted and that county employee was just being a jerk.  When confronted by the evidence of the permits, county employee laughs and says, "So what?  You can't touch me - I'm IMMUNE (public employee, and all)!"

See, what we, the common folk, don't realize is that them the politicians have conveniently created a series of laws that exempt government ("public") employees from any civil liability when "public" employees engages in nefarious actions or have some other personal vendetta to grind. Specifically, California Government Code 822.2 reads:  
A public employee acting in the scope of his employment is not liable for an injury caused by his misrepresentation, whether or not such misrepresentation be negligent or intentional, unless he is guilty of actual fraud, corruption or actual malice.
The problem here is that word "guilty?"  I take it to mean that before anyone can take any civil action against a public employee, the public employee must first be charged criminally by the District Attorney and be found "guilty" of a misrepresentation.  Bottom line, screwed by a local government employee?  You're pretty much SOL.

Such was/is the situation guy found himself in.  Public employee laughing in his face (run, run, run as fast as you can, you can't touch me - I'm a government man!).  Now, guy is pretty much stuck declaring bankrutpcy due in no small part to the money that the county "acquired" from him in penalties and fees that it will now not reimburse sans a lawsuit against county.  It's a Catch 22 hell.

Think you're in a similar situation with your local government?  Might I suggest you take a look at Lundeen Coatings, Corp. v. Department of Water & Power, 232 Cal.App.3d 816, 283 Cal. Rptr. 551 (1991).  It'll take your breath away at how far politicians have gone to block we the people's right to recourse against unscrupulous government employees. 

Might be time to SCREAM at your "representatives" at the state and Federal levels of government to change the law.  If that doesn't work, then maybe it's time to vote the bums out of office.  

Yeah, just maybe.