OPINION – This week, St. George Attorney Aaron Prisbrey met with the officials of the City of St. George to discuss a possible resolution and forego a federal class-action lawsuit he is ready to file for what could be thousands of Fourth Amendment violations by the code enforcement department.
At present, it appears the city is willing to consider Prisbrey’s stipulations which include revision of the unconstitutional portions of the city code and compensatory damages to those people unlawfully subjected to illegal searches and subsequent fines.
What should be noted here, is that Prisbrey has said that if the city does capitulate to these terms, he will forego pursuing punitive damages that would otherwise be sought through litigation. This speaks volumes to not only the legitimacy of the claim, but to the motive of the lawsuit: justice.
Let that sink in.
An attorney, who has spent most of his career as a trial and a personal injury lawyer is apparently compelled so much by the rightness of this cause, is foregoing a paycheck for the work.
What should also be noted here is what could be considered a critical development in this potential lawsuit, that being: a separate but related hearing which took place on Monday. Prisbrey’s principal client in his proposed class-action lawsuit, Jeff Rowley, was appearing before Administrative Law Judge Brian Filter on a motion to suppress evidence gathered against Rowley by the city ordinance department in an action the city has brought against him.
It was asserted by Prisbrey that the the evidence, in this case a photograph taken, in the administrative action was obtained in direct violation of his client’s Fourth Amendment rights. Filter ruled that the execution of the search in enforcement of the ordinance was in fact unconstitutional and the photograph was excluded from evidence in the city’s action.
This ruling, in and of itself, suggests the provision in the ordinance which allows such illegal searches may also be unconstitutional.
And the ordinance has a broader implication as well, that being the semblance of illegal spying on behalf of government for purposes unknown. In this case, the purpose of the illegal spying is said to be to enforce the ordinances.
One of many problems with this assertion, however, is the selective enforcement of these ordinances as well as the illegal execution of searches in pursuit of violations and enforcement.
And this is where that curious notion of justice comes into the equation.
If, for the sake of argument, two citizens or business owners are similarly situated but are treated differently under the same laws or ordinances, what arises is a blatant demonstration of unconstitutionality. Simply put, it is not fair for justice to be to the advantage of the strong, or elected.
And the question that naturally arises next of course is: Was this selective and illegal enforcement perpetrated for the purpose of power or gain. Perhaps it is both.
Either way, it is wrong and a reckoning appears to be what is at the heart of Prisbrey’s threatened lawsuit.
But to truly attain justice here, does it not stand to reason that (a) in addition to a repeal of illegal ordinance provisions, (b) in addition to compensatory damages to those wrongly searched and fined, then (c) there should be accountability in the form of penalty or punishment for those responsible for the offenses?
This might include not only the officers, who should have known better, but those responsible for writing and enforcing the laws in the first place – some of who, it is fairly noted, have preceded those currently in power.
It is painfully belaboring the obvious that the absence of some accountability is tantamount to allowing a crime to go unpunished simply because the convicted apologized and promises not to do it again.
It is the responsibility of the engaged citizen to consider these things not only in terms of who to perhaps elect or “unelect” in this year’s mayoral and City Council races, but also to hold those responsible to some level of accountability and send a clear message from the citizens to our government here locally that this, and anything like it, will not be tolerated here anymore.
Think about it.
See you out there.
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Dallas Hyland is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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