County blasted for campaign to force family to live on the streets

 January 20, 2024

This story was originally published by the WND News Center.

A legal team that leads the nation in litigating abusive fees and fines is condemning a California county for its draconian punishment it wants to impose on a landowner for allowing a needy family to live on his property.

And for the agenda that would, if followed as the county wishes, force that family into a situation of living on the streets.

The situation has developed in Santa Clara County, according to a report from the Institute for Justice.

It explained the county is imposing "outrageous, unconstitutional fines" on the owner of a winery.

His offense? "As they were losing their housing in 2014, Marcelino Martinez went to his boss Michael Ballard to ask if he and his family could stay at Michael’s vineyard. Marcelino has been a valued employee and family friend of Michael’s for two decades, so Michael was happy to allow Marcelino to stay at Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards. As a result, Marcelino purchased a trailer and settled it into a secluded part of Michael’s 60-acre vineyard."

For three years there were no problems. Then in 2017 the county simply said the family was in violation of their county requirements and started fines against Ballard of $250 a day.

"As fines mounted, county staff declined to help Michael acquire the proper permits. County officials refused to negotiate with Michael over his non-compliance and pushed him to evict the Martinez family, which he refused to do.

Now, because of his act of kindness, Michael faces hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and legal fees, the IJ confirmed.

"My longtime vineyard manager asked me to help his family by allowing them to locate their trailer on our 60-acre vineyard property. They could not find affordable housing anywhere else. We didn’t hesitate to help," Ballard explained in the IJ report.

"Then, after years of their enjoyment of assisted, cost-free housing, Santa Clara County, unprovoked, came on our property demanding the trailer be removed. They did this knowing it would force a family onto the streets."

He stood his ground, insisting he will not allow the county to hurt the family.

The IJ explained, "The U.S. Constitution protects Americans from excessive fines like the ones Michael currently faces. The fines Santa Clara County imposed upon Michael are grossly disproportionate to the gravity of his offense. What Michael did keep a family off the streets during a historic affordable housing crisis in California.

"Santa Clara County is among the least affordable housing markets in the country. Every night thousands of Santa Clarans go to sleep on the streets, two-thirds of whom have no shelter, leaving them at risk."

Bill Maurer, chief of the IJ's fines and fees division, explained, "The Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution requires government fines to be proportionate to the harm caused. Here, there was no harm, as evidenced by the fact that such living arrangements are common in California and across the country. In fact, this supposed violation probably helped keep these folks from becoming homeless."

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