FJI Assists ACLU Attorneys in Defending Historic Pottinger Agreement to Protect Homeless Individuals

The Pottinger Agreement is a consent decree entered in 1998 between the City of Miami and ACLU attorneys after a decade of hard-fought litigation and intense negotiations.  The Agreement prevents City of Miami police officers from arresting homeless individuals for committing certain life-sustaining conduct misdemeanors in public if there is no available shelter bed to take them to, and prevents the police from arbitrarily confiscating the property of homeless individuals.  It affirms the principle that people cannot be arrested for carrying out life’s basic necessities (such as sleeping, eating, going to the bathroom, etc.) if they truly have no place to go.

In September 2013, the City filed a Motion to Modify the Agreement, seeking modifications that would have eliminated the vital protections for the vast majority of homeless people.  With assistance from FJI attorney Dante Trevisani, ACLU cooperating attorneys Benjamin Waxman, Maria Kayanan, and Stephen Schnably filed a Response to the Motion and began preparations for a hearing to defend the Agreement.  The parties were ordered to mediation, and after two full days of intense negotiations, the parties finally reached an agreement.   The result was an Addendum to the Settlement Agreement, which preserves the core protections for homeless individuals, with some modifications.  It reaffirms the principle that the City cannot criminalize a group of people just because they are homeless, and recognizes that great strides will be taken in the very near future to end chronic homelessness by the end of 2015.

The ACLU’s official press release is here.  News coverage of this story is here.

The team of attorneys representing the Miami homeless population will now undertake a massive effort to notify as many homeless people as possible of the settlement, to provide an opportunity for the class members to file objections with the Court.  This effort includes making presentations at homeless shelters, as well as conducting outreach on the street, and distributing informational flyers and objection forms.  A fairness hearing is scheduled for February 28, 2014 at 10:00 am, at which the Court will consider objections to the proposed agreement, and then decide whether to approve it.

UPDATE: Judge Moreno approved the proposed settlement at the fairness hearing, making the changes to the Agreement official.  The attorneys will continue to closely monitor the City of Miami’s treatment of the homeless, to ensure that the revised agreement is followed.

The Pottinger legal team, including FJI attorney Dante P. Trevisani, received the C. Clyde Atkins Award from the Miami ACLU, which recognizes exceptional contributions to the advancement of civil liberties.

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