Attorney Matthews Bark – Legal challenge to N.C. voter ID could be settled

Source     : Journal Now
By            : Michael Hewlett Winston-Salem Journal
Category : Attorney Matthews BarkMatthews Bark

Legal challenge to N.C. voter ID could be settled
Legal challenge to N.C. voter ID could be settled

North Carolina’s voter ID law may not go to trial after all, according to court documents filed Monday. The recent federal trial on North Carolina’s Voter Information Verification Act that ended about two weeks ago did not deal with the state’s photo ID requirement that goes into effect in 2016. It only dealt with other provisions of the law, which reduced the early voting period, eliminated same-day voter registration, prohibited county election officials from counting ballots cast in the wrong precinct but correct county, and abolished preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds. U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder decided that the legal challenge to the photo ID requirement would be dealt with later. Schroeder’s decision came after state Republican legislators approved an amendment easing the photo ID requirement.

The amendment allows voters without photo ID to sign a declaration saying they had a “reasonable impediment” to getting a photo ID and also enables voters to use a photo ID that has expired as long as it has not been more than four years. State Republican leaders proposed the changes less than a month before the federal trial was to start. The N.C. NAACP, the U.S. Department of Justice and others charged that North Carolina’s law disproportionately damaged the ability of blacks, Hispanics, poor people and young people to register and vote. The federal trial that ended July 31 was closely watched because North Carolina passed one of the country’s most sweeping election changes soon after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in June 2013. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required certain states and local communities, including in North Carolina, to seek federal approval for election changes in a process known as preclearance. In court papers filed Monday, attorneys representing the state NAACP and other plaintiffs said that their pending claims “may be able to be resolved through discussion and negotiations with Defendants.” The plaintiffs still believe the photo ID requirement is racially discriminatory and that state Republican leaders had discriminatory intent in passing the legislation, according to court documents.

They also said they have concerns about whether the state election officials have adequately educated the public about the new changes and whether county election officials have gotten the proper training. They also said state officials have not explained how exactly the new changes are going to be interpreted. The Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, said Tuesday that attorneys are still examining the implications of the amended photo ID requirement and the legal options. Nothing has been settled, and plaintiffs said the changes may be even more confusing to people, he said. Barber said the amendment represents a 21st century literacy test because blacks are disproportionately more likely to be illiterate. Some might not be able to fully understand the “reasonable impediment declaration” they would have to sign if they don’t have a photo ID, Barber said. Literacy tests were used during the Jim Crow era to keep blacks from voting. Plaintiffs said in court papers that they plan to present a possible consent decree this week to defendants and raise areas of concerns “with the purpose of settlement discussions.”

“Plaintiffs believe that through a consent decree, Defendants may be able to provide the reassurances needed to resolve the pending claims without further court proceedings and reserve any remaining concerns in a different proceeding, if necessary,” they write in court documents. Attorneys for the plaintiffs said they would report back to Schroeder on Sept. 18. Thomas Farr, one of the lead attorneys for the state, did not return a message seeking comment. Attorneys representing the state and Gov. Pat McCrory filed court papers Monday, saying that the legal challenge to the photo ID law should be dismissed. They also argued that a decision by another federal appeals court striking down Texas’ voter ID law proposed something similar to the amendment that North Carolina passed. Plaintiffs said that’s a misreading of the ruling, which they argued left the ultimate decision on how to fix Texas’ Voter ID law to a lower federal court. Barber said Tuesday that Schroeder should not dismiss the legal challenge because even with the change, the law is still unconstitutional and racially discriminatory. “We’re still fighting and we’re winning,” he said. Schroeder has not issued a decision in the federal trial. He has said it would likely be weeks, and possibly months, before he issues a ruling.

Read More:  journalnow.com/news/elections/local/legal-challenge-to-n-c-voter-id-law-could-be/article_ff4da1a0-6c39-5ad9-a068-9645c320159b.html

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Matthews Bark Attorney – Legal battle pushing Vaughan homeowner into poverty

Source     : The Star
By            : Noor Javed
Category : Matthews Ryan BarkMatthews Bark Attorney

Legal battle pushing Vaughan homeowner into poverty
Legal battle pushing Vaughan homeowner into poverty

Every weekend, Sydney Walters spends hours mowing the lawn, and cleaning up the yard of a home he owns but hasn’t lived in for years. His family fled the semi-detached home in Vaughan four years ago, when mould spread in his home due to the missing insulation in the attic. But he returns to the home every few days, to keep it looking habitable. “I don’t want it to look unkempt,” said Walters. “It’s a beautiful house from the outside, but inside it is hell.” The Vaughan resident says it breaks his heart when he sees the neighbours near his home on Hollywood Hill Circle sitting on their decks, enjoying the weather and holding barbecues with their families and friends.

“That should be me. That should be my family,” said Walters. “But instead, we are on the verge of losing everything.” For Walters, “everything” refers to the home he bought in 2004, in the hopes of giving his family a taste of the suburban dream. But it’s a dream that has become entangled in a web of lawsuits, that Walters says have brought him to the brink of bankruptcy and will soon cost him the only asset he has. In the meantime, Walters has been living in a cramped one-bedroom basement apartment a street away, with his wife and teenage son — who sleeps on the couch. The burden of paying for and running two households is proving to be just too much. “I’m still paying my mortgage, and we pay almost a thousand dollars to rent this,” said Walters, pointing at the small apartment around him. “Our monthly insurance fee is so high. It’s just a matter of time before the bank will take possession of the house,” he said.

The Star profiled Walters in 2012, when he was living in a tent in the backyard of his home because of the mould inside. He had just filed a lawsuit against the city of Vaughan, the builder Villa Royale Homes Inc., and Tarion Warranty Corporation — alleging the parties are responsible for the damage to his home as a result of the bare attic and should be responsible for the costs of the cleanup. In 2013, Walters initiated a new lawsuit against the parties, seeking $2 million in damages to their home and personal injuries. The lawsuit has sparked a handful of others, with the city suing the builder and the builder suing the city, the original homeowners and a subcontractor, who in turn sued the insulation company. With the agreement of all parties, the claims against Tarion and the insulation company were dropped after recent mediation. None of the allegations have been proven in court. Since then, the case has hit a standstill as nobody can agree on who is at fault. And each party Walters is suing says the other should pay, if a judge rules in his favour. Court mandated mediation failed in June. Walters’s lawyer, Wendy Greenspoon-Soer, says the case is headed to trial early next year.

According to the lawsuit, Walters and his wife Olivia bought the home in 2004 for $320,000 from the original homeowner, who bought the new build in 2002. As first time buyers, Walters admits he was naïve. Because it was only two years old, he moved in without a home inspection. He dutifully paid heating bills — upwards of $400 a month — even though he noticed the home was “extremely hot during summer months and extremely cold during the winter months, with poor ventilation and ice buildup where the walls meet the roof,” according to the suit.
In the winter, when he turned up the furnace, heat would escape through the top and melt the snow and cause leaks. In the summer, the house was hot, and the mould began to grow and spread because of the moisture. According to his claim, the family began to have health issues, and specialists and doctors advised Walters and his family to move elsewhere. Even now, he says he enters the home only if he’s wearing protective gear. Walters complained to the city after a contractor he hired said the attic lacked insulation. During legal examination in 2011, notes from a city of Vaughan building inspector confirmed that “no attic ceiling insulation” was ever installed.

As a result of the investigation, the city of Vaughan sent Walters and Villa Royale an order to complete the insulation in 2011. In a statement of defence, the city claims any damages should have been rectified by Walters, and that he has “exacerbated their own damages by suing Vaughan rather than fixing the problem.” They also say the damages were caused by the negligence of Villa Royale. Vaughan cites an independent contractor who said the cleanup and repair would cost around $15,000. In the reply to defence, Walters says his house will need to be completely demolished and rebuilt. He blames the builder for not installing the insulation and the city building inspector for failing to ensure it met the Ontario Building Code.

Neither Villa Royale nor its lawyer responded to a request for comment for this story. Last week, days after the Star started asking questions about the matter, Vaughan’s legal counsel sent Walters a settlement offer “to retain and pay a contractor to complete interior repairs to his home… including the installation of attic insulation.” Walters said he can’t comment on the offer. Since 2011, Walters says he has gathered documents that try to find answers to how his house was approved, if insulation was never installed. A city document Walters obtained through an Access to Information request show a city inspector approved the home, including its insulation, a day after the house was sold. Normally, a home must pass city inspection before it is cleared for sale. The city did not respond to questions about whether any internal investigation was conducted as a result of Walters’ 2011 complaint, as is required by the building inspector’s code of conduct protocol created in 2005. The city of Vaughan said it could not comment on the matter because it’s before the courts. “Our family, we are living in poverty. We are not poor. We are hard-working people, but we have no money. We go to bed hungry some nights,” said Walters, his eyes wet with tears. “We have a house, but we are living in these substandard conditions,” he said.
“That is just not right.”

Read More:  thestar.com/news/gta/2015/08/19/legal-battle-pushing-vaughan-homeowner-into-poverty.html