Protest a group home, get investigated for housing bias

by Walter Olson on March 21, 2007

They’re doing it again in California: “State and federal authorities have opened an investigation into a Norco housewife, alleging that her vitriolic protests against a high-risk group home in her neighborhood may constitute housing discrimination.” Federal officials asked state fair housing regulators to investigate Julie Waltz, 61, who had protested plans to open a group house next to her home for developmentally disabled residents; among those eligible to reside there under state law would be persons deemed not competent to stand trial on sex crime charges. In 2000, the Ninth Circuit ruled that three Berkeley, Calif. neighbors’ rights had been violated by an “extraordinarily intrusive and chilling” investigation of whether their protests had been contrary to housing discrimination law. In that episode, as in the latest one, housing advocates had set the investigation in motion by filing complaints against the neighbors.

A spokesman for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development acknowledged that in order to recommend the inquiry, it had to push aside internal guidelines that prohibit such an investigation because it infringes on the 1st Amendment.

The rules require that complaints of housing discrimination be investigated only in cases in which the alleged victim’s safety has been threatened.

No such allegation has been made against Waltz, but HUD opened an investigation into her and state investigators ordered her to respond to the complaint in detail because a preliminary review showed that someone else in the neighborhood may have made a violent threat, said HUD spokesman Larry Bush.

(Garrett Therolf, “Protester of group home is targeted”, Los Angeles Times, Mar. 20).

{ 6 comments }

1 SPO 03.20.07 at 11:49 pm

Appalling. The attorney who is a part of this ought to be disbarred. This woman has an absolute right to protest this government action.

2 Melvin 03.21.07 at 12:51 am

Sounds to me like an anti-SLAPP lawsuit might be in the works here; who ever heard of something like that against a government agency?

3 David Wilson 03.21.07 at 11:55 am

“Discrimination” is the cry that drowns out all others; yell it, and all other rights melt at the heat, not the least of which is free speech and the right to political agitation. The “housing advocates” realize this perfectly well.

4 Rochelle 03.21.07 at 12:24 pm

That HUD would openand recommend this investigation, and have to push aside their own internal rules is truly disgusting. I would like to see some kind of anit-SLAPP suit directed against those who filed the complaint; the attorney handling it; and the HUD officials who condoned and apparently encouraged it. Sometimes the correct answer is “No.”

5 Jkoerner 03.21.07 at 6:43 pm

This seems to be the same situation as the already decided Berkely case. In that case there was a question of whether state actors were violating well-known constitutional rights so as to be personally liable (no immunity). Since that case, there is no question that they are. It seems that Ms. Waltz should be able to win monetary damages from the HUD officials involved.

6 Richard Nieporent 03.21.07 at 9:23 pm

Bush said it was “regrettable” if Waltz interpreted the investigation as an effort by the government to squelch her free speech rights.

Where are those people with the Bush = Hitler signs when you need them?

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