Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
54 Pima County cases part of review of potential eviction moratorium violations

54 Pima County cases part of review of potential eviction moratorium violations

Research shows that there were 941 eviction cases heard between June 1 and July 2. Of those, 198 were on CARES Act-covered properties and about 108 appear to be problematic.

Eviction judgments in at least 54 Pima County cases might have violated a federal act put in place to protect low-income people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The State Bar of Arizona has opened an inquiry into whether three Arizona attorneys committed violations by seeking evictions against people living in federally subsidized housing or rental housing with federally backed mortgages.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act — which expired July 25 — prohibited such evictions and was in place when these eviction judgments were entered in Pima County Consolidated Justice Court during June and early July.

In addition to prohibiting evictions from federal housing, the CARES Act also placed a moratorium on the fees and penalties often imposed for nonpayment of rent.

There were about 50 cases where illegal fees were allegedly charged, mostly in cases where an eviction was filed before the CARES Act started March 27 and then processed when the court reopened in June.

Corinne Cooper, a retired University of Missouri law professor, worked with University of Arizona law student Stephen Bagger to look at the CARES cases. Cooper said while Gov. Doug Ducey’s moratorium allows eviction judgments to be rendered, the federal act prohibited even filing an eviction.

Cooper said she brought this to the court’s attention in June and is frustrated more wasn’t done to help people.

“A court that is willing to ignore evidence that a federal law was broken and not only refuses to grant relief when these cases are brought to its attention, but relies upon the same landlords’ lawyers to protect the wronged defendants, is not doing its job,” she said.

Cooper and Bagger’s research, which they provided to the Arizona Daily Star, shows that there were 941 eviction cases heard between June 1 and July 2. Of those, 198 were on CARES Act-covered properties and about 108 appear to be problematic, she said.

While the court entered the eviction judgments, none were carried out, said Kristen Randall, presiding constable in Pima County. Randall said her office did not enforce eviction orders because, she said, doing so would violate the CARES Act. However, she said some residents not familiar with their rights moved once they realized an eviction had been requested.

She estimates that happened at least 10 times.

“To the extent a party is aggrieved, or believes judgment was entered in contravention of that portion of the Act (or for any other reason), that party may file a motion to set aside the judgment, pursuant to the Arizona Rules of Procedure for Evictions Actions,” wrote Judge Kyle Bryson, presiding judge at Pima County Superior Court and supervisor of the Justice Court, in an email to the Arizona Daily Star.

“The court will process any such motion expeditiously, giving it due consideration. Additionally, a party may appeal a lower court decision to superior court, if the appeal is made timely, pursuant to rule.”

People who need help can find more information on the Consolidated Justice Court and the Superior Court websites, as well as on the Arizona Supreme Court website.

“Representatives from these groups who are lawyers will also be able to give people who believe they were evicted despite the applicability of the CARES moratorium legal advice as to what relief, if any, they may be entitled to pursue,” Bryson wrote.

According to a July 15 county memorandum from Justice Court Judge Charlene Pesquiera about the CARES Act, the court reportedly did not have the resources to identify properties that fell under the CARES Act. However, Pesquiera said she had since assigned one staff person to identify federally funded cases before initial hearings.

“The CARES Act requires that a landlord who is covered by the act not file an eviction action,” Presiding Justice Court Judge Adam Watters wrote in an email response to the Arizona Daily Star. “There is actually no ‘penalty’ for violation of the act, except of course an attorney filing an eviction when his or her client is covered by the act might be subject to Arizona State Bar discipline.”

Watters said the court told each plaintiff landlord about the CARES Act and gave the landlord the chance to withdraw the eviction complaint.

He said they did have landlords withdraw their eviction, or forcible detainer, request after they heard about the restrictions.

“Also, and this apparently is a common problem around the country, many landlords who own just a single or a few units, are unaware that their mortgage is held by the (federal government),” he said. “This occurs when one of the two large federal mortgage entities listed above buy a block of mortgages, which can occur without the mortgagee’s knowledge.”

At no point, he said, was there “a requirement that judges review and research who the mortgage holder is on each property.”

Cooper requested the State Bar of Arizona investigate three of the attorneys who were involved in requesting these evictions and penalties. There were three law firms, two in Maricopa County and one in Pima County, that were responsible for almost all of the cases in which eviction judgments were rendered, she said.

The bar initially declined to get involved because the problems appeared to be about the interpretation of the law rather than any ethical violations.

“The issues you have raised are legal in nature and more appropriately addressed in the courts,” Tom McCauley, intake attorney for the state bar, wrote to Cooper. “However, if any court determines any of the attorneys has intentionally violated the CARES Act or has engaged in a pattern of violations, you are free to provide us with a copy of that finding for further consideration.”

On Monday, however, the bar reconsidered and started looking into the cases. The attorneys are Tucson attorney James Landon, and Phoenix attorneys Scott Clark and Scott Williams. Williams and Clark did not return phones calls Tuesday to comment on the inquiry, and Landon said he was not aware of the complaint and had not been contacted by the bar.

Contact reporter Patty Machelor at pmachelor@tucson.com or 806-7754. On Twitter:

@pattymachstar.

Concerned about COVID-19?

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alerts

Breaking News