Orange County Superior Court Judge Franz E. Miller gave prosecutors the green light Wednesday to begin enforcing a preliminary gang injunction in Santa Ana’s Townsend Street neighborhood despite objections from defense attorneys, who argued the gang has been not properly served and the parameters of the restraining order are too broad.
The mounting opposition to the gang injunction was apparent in the courtroom as a host of freshly-recruited pro-bono defense attorneys sparred with Orange County Deputy District Attorney Susan J. Eckermann as to how the preliminary injunction would be enforced.
The injunction is essentially a restraining order that would restrict the activities of the gang’s members in a .39-square-mile safety zone bordered by McFadden Avenue, and Raitt, Sullivan and First streets.
Those enjoined would be prohibited, for example, from associating with gang members in public spaces within the safety zone, with the exception of certain spaces such as schools or churches. The order also prohibits gang members from acting as lookouts, trespassing, fighting, blocking free passage or intimidating anyone in public.
Miller approved the preliminary injunction last Friday, and set Wednesday's status conference hearing to discuss the language for the preliminary injunction, which will enjoin only 10 of the 24 people who were served with the complaint.
The DA's Office filed the lawsuit against the Townsend Street gang in June, listing only the gang and “Does 1-100” as defendants.
The complaint, however, does include 29 individuals alleged to be active gang participants. Of those, 14 are contesting their inclusion in the lawsuit, and on Wednesday, Miller confirmed that the preliminary injunction will not be enforced against them until they have their day in court.
Miller gave their defense attorneys 30 days to submit their responses to the complaint.
So far, nobody has stepped forward on behalf of the gang to contest the complaint thus resulting in a default judgment against the gang. This means the gang would have no standing to argue their case in court.
Attorney David W. Paulson, who is representing one of the complaint’s named individuals, argued in court that there are no grounds for the default because the gang, lacking a clearly-defined representative, had not been served.
Miller, however, said that there was sufficient proof to order the enforcement of the preliminary injunction given that many of the individuals listed in the complaint as active gang participants had already been served, a precedent set by previous gang injunctions.
Paulson said he would file a motion to set aside the default, which Miller said he would address once the motion is presented.
Douglas D. Potratz, a Santa Ana-based attorney who is representing one of the minors listed in the complaint, made it clear that the defense will challenge the size of the 24-28-block safety zone, which he says is far larger than the area typically covered under a gang injunction.
“Under the case law in California, it’s usually only three or four blocks that are under the purview of an injunction, and in this case we have six times that space… We don’t thing that that is fair,” said Potratz.
What was originally a team of three attorneys representing the individuals listed in the complaint grew to 10 on Wednesday after Potratz sought attorneys willing to volunteer their time on the case.
“The reason we all have come forward to represent these individuals is because of the overbreadth of this injunction,” said criminal defense attorney Shelly Aronson, noting the civil rights implications for a matter involving the First Amendment rights of a group of individuals who would be prohibited from being seen in public with known gang members.
The defense attorneys asked Miller to set the next hearing for mid-October, but Eckermann protested, agreeing only if the defense allowed the restraining order to be enforced against their clients.
“This is a public safety issue,” Eckermann told the court, noting that the named individuals were served about 60 days ago.
But most of the attorneys had only recently agreed to represent their individual clients, and asked for more time to prepare, given the “massive case.” Miller granted their request, setting the next status conference for October 22.
“She was asking for us to surrender. She was asking that we would bless the injunction be enforced against our clients, and of course, the answer is no,” said Potratz.
More than three-dozen community members showed up to the court hearing in opposition to the injunction. They were joined by activists from the grass-roots social justice organization Chicanos Unidos of Orange County.
“I’m just concerned that we are here duplicating the same injustices that happened before in other gang injunction cases, in the name of safety, in the name of law,” said Gabriela Hernandez, an organizer with Chicanos Unidos, after the hearing.
“The (deputy) district attorney says that she wants to save lives, that they are here to save lives. What about ruining lives? What about the people who are on the injunction who shouldn’t be on there.”
Rosie Iraheta, the mother of a minor alleged to be an active gang participant in the complaint, was also in the courtroom on Wednesday, and said Eckermann’s portrayal of the neighborhood is in stark contrast to what she experiences daily.
“It’s not what they make it sound like…It’s not a war zone,” said Iraheta, who lives about a half a mile away from Townsend Street.
Iraheta, who has spent most of her life in the area, says she recognizes the need to address the violence and crime Santa Ana. In April, her son was shot in the arm while walking near his home, and police have yet to track down the assailant.
She nonetheless is opposed to the injunction, and said she is grateful that so many attorneys have stepped forward to offer their services.
“To some people my son might be a gang member …but that’s my son and I know him. I know he has a good heart and I know he has a lot of potential,” says Iraheta, a mother of four.
The judge has not yet set a date to hear the matter of the permanent gang injunction, but at the scheduled status conference hearing on October 22 will likely set the trial date.
Yvette Cabrera is a long-time Orange County journalist and Voice of OC contributing writer.