John Mittelman, TLC ‘10 Grad. 

Fellow Warriors:

I left the Ranch on October 2, 2010.  On Oct. 15 I had an unlawful detainer trial, my first trial after TLC.  I represent tenants only in unlawful detainer and habitability cases.  These folks are put through the meat grinder and spit out within about 30 days after they’ve been given a 3-day notice to quit, often because they bitched long enough about the rats, roaches, mold, leaking roofs, bad electrical systems, leaking gas, no heat or hot water, etc., that they refuse to pay the rent.  They’re helpless and damned if they don’t get an attorney to step in and make the landlord fix the slums they rent to these folks.  I literally have clients that are stuffing their ears and noses with toilet paper at night to keep the cockroaches out of these orifices.

Anyway, an attorney friend who doesn’t do this kind of work asked me to try a case for her client.  She lived in a garage converted to a 3 bedroom flat, totally unpermitted, with all of the above defects, and on top of it, the living room floor was detached from the wall in the corner and mice and other vermin were entering the unit.  We go to trial, the landlord sought possession and about $3200 in back rent, fees and costs.

We put on our proof, and I felt pretty good about it.  We actually put into evidence a recording made by the client when the LL’s repair guy was at her unit doing some work, and he said “If I lived in your place with all the crap going on there, I’d sue my own boss.”  Judge heard this evidence and takes the case under submission.  As I’m gathering my stuff, the judge leaned over to us after the hearing and whispered “you guys did a really good job.”  This was totally unsolicited and something I’d NEVER heard from a judge before…I took it as a good sign. I knew that this judge had been a law school class mate of Jude’s, and Jude had mentioned to me that he was a good guy, so I was now feeling pretty good about the outcome. Well, later that day he ruled against us and entered a judgment for the LL, allowed fees and costs, and gave possession of the unit back to the landlord.  BUT, he reduced the rent down to about $900 because of all the bad conditions.  I was floored, because the LAW SAYS IF THERE’S SHITTY CONDITIONS AND THE RENT IS ABATED, the TENANT IS THE PREVAILING PARTY and gets fees, costs, and can retain possession.

So I file a motion to clarify the judgment…The judge listens attentively as I argue the cases at a noticed hearing.  He’s totally wrong on the law, but he’s unable to state why he did what he did…so he claims he was just trying to balance the equities, etc.  I tell him the LAW DOESN’T ALLOW you to balance anything if you find the conditions were a substantial breach of the habitability statutes.  He says “the breaches were “material” but not substantial.”  HUHHHH????

Now I’m kind of upset…this little case is decided for us in theory, but against us in reality.  I file a notice of appeal….and then the client had to move out but I can’t let this judge continue to wrongly decide all these cases and essentially evict tenants from their homes in violation of the LAW, so I call the Goddess of All Appeals, Sharon Arkin, and she gets upset when I told her the story, and she says “John…I’ll do this appeal.  FOR FREE!!!  It’s totally wrong what this judge did, and WE HAVE TO PUT AN END TO IT.”  There is no better appellate attorney in these parts than Sharon!

Briefing was completed in September, 2011.  Case was lodged before a three judge panel of the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, San Bernardino County.  Oral argument was last Friday, March 23rd.  Yesterday, I got the decision….REVERSED, WITH FEES AND COSTS TO APPELLANT!!!  (The lease provides for up to $500 in atty fees, so I’m now rich!)

This journey has made me a better person.  My client will now be able to rent another apartment now, without having to explain the judge got it wrong…without having to pay a double security fee and higher rent because of this judgment on her record.  Her credit score will be resurrected.

Most importantly, my client’s rights were vindicated….and she got justice and now she can hold her head high again, without the weight of an illegal, improper, void judgment around her neck.

I’m walking on air right now…

John M