Election Section

Commentary: Ms. Moore Deserves Legal Assistance By LEO STEGMAN

Friday October 21, 2005

I am a resident of South Berkeley. I have been assisting Lenora Moore in presenting her defense. In the Lenora Moore case I feel that the plaintiffs have displayed a sense of privilege and entitlement. Not only are they trying to get Ms. Moore to sell her family home through the small claims court process, but they have attacked anybody that is assisting Ms. Moore in defending herself.  

Reasonable minds can disagree about complex issues such as how we want to deal with crime, homelessness and people with mental health problems in our neighborhoods. There are 15 plaintiffs who have filed a lawsuit Ms. Moore. They have filed a plethora of legal documents with the assistance of Neighborhood Solutions Inc., yet they imply that Ms. Moore is not entitled to the same type of legal assistance that they have received. Under the law, she is entitled to have her day in court, and the small claims court commissioner has determined she is entitled to legal assistance. Ms. Moore is a taxpayer, a homeowner, a resident of Berkeley and a citizen. She should be afforded the same rights that all of her neighbors enjoy.  

As an African-American Berkeley progressive I feel that we should first talk to each other to find a solution to problems in the neighborhood. Litigation and law enforcement should be a last step, not the first one. The plaintiffs seem to want these proceedings to be no more that a formality. Their sense of entitlement is shocking. 

They fail to see Ms. Moore’s suffering. She is 75 years old, has a part-time job, is the caretaker of her disabled husband and legal guardian of her two grandsons. She has been an active member in her community. She has worked for and helped to start non-profits that provide services to the underserved and underprivileged South Berkeley community. She does not use or sell drugs, and nobody has accused her of this conduct. She has not benefited from any illegal activity. On the contrary, she has suffered seeing several of her family members with substance abuse problems, two of her sons in prison, and the violent death of a grandson. As a mother, grandmother and community member she has suffered witnessing drug sales and use in her community, and is well aware of how they adversely affect people.  

The plaintiffs attempt to paint her as the second coming of Ma Barker. This depiction could not be further from the truth. When we state facts on her behalf, they don’t dispute the facts. They demonize Ms Moore and the presenter of the facts. They imply that she should submit and surrender to their demands to sell her home. The small claims court is an adversarial forum that they have chosen, and they act as if Ms. Moore is committing a crime just by defending herself in this matter.  

I became involved in this case to assist Ms. Moore in setting the facts straight and having her day in Court. There are 15 plaintiffs against Ms. Moore that have substantially more means and human resources to present their case than she does. This is why members of the progressive community have decided to assist her in her defense. South Berkeley is a very diverse community. At Ms. Moore’s Oct. 13 court appearance every plaintiff except one appeared to me to be White. This group of plaintiffs by no means represents a racial cross section of South Berkeley. A rational person that understands gentrification cannot turn a blind eye to the racial make up of this group of plaintiffs and the race of the defendant, and we must see the plaintiffs’ demand for Ms. Moore to sell her longtime family home in this context. 

I don’t feel there is a judicial solution to Ms. Moore’s personal problems and the problems of the neighborhood. This lawsuit has a polarizing effect, and is not being pursued in a spirit of neighborliness. I have not seen any documents from any of the plaintiffs showing that they would accept any outcome of their conflict with her short of her selling her family home.  

Most of the time when you try to dictate a solution to others it tends not to be effective. I feel that the time, effort and energy put into this lawsuit would be better spent getting all the parties and relevant agencies together to find a common sense non-litigious solution.  


Leo Stegman is a Berkeley paralegal.ô