Ramona Morales is a 79-year-old woman who bought a total of six dilapidated homes in Indio and Coachella, CA. All of the homes were renovated by her and her family with sweat equity, and then they were rented out. Her intention was to leave something for her children and grandchildren.
At one of the Morales properties in Indio, a city code inspector noticed some chickens inside of a small coop in the home’s back yard. That violated a local ordinance, and Morales was warned accordingly. She told her tenant to get rid of the chickens, paid $150 in fines and went about her life. The tenant failed to get rid of the chickens, and Morales was prosecuted in the criminal courts. According to the Desert Sun, Indio and the law firm of Silver & Wright, its prosecutors, now want nearly $6,000 in prosecution fees from Morales. She isn’t the only one that the Indio and Coachella has sought prosecution fees from. A Desert Sun investigation revealed that the two cities have billed other similarly situated individuals $122,000 of prosecution fees.
She Sued Them
Morales is fighting back. California courts have already ruled that it’s against the law for prosecutors to have a financial interest in cases that they might pursue. The Institute for Justice represents Morales. As opposed to Indio, Coachella and Silver & Wright, it’s a not-for-profit public interest law firm that confronts government entities that police for profit. Morales has now filed a class action lawsuit against Indio and Silver & Wright. At this point in time, she’s the only plaintiff, but other individuals are expected to join.
The Institute of Justice is trying to stop enforcement for profit and obtain the return of the fines paid by Morales and others. The Desert Sun reports that in other cases “the disparity between the severity of the crime and the cost of the bill is even more staggering than what happened to Morales.” Ramona Morales is now a convicted criminal.