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Jonathan Robert Pool: Litigation

Here is some information about a few legal controversies that I have participated in.

Governance in a common interest development

I was the plaintiff in a California case, initiated in 2012, asserting the right of a member (resident-shareholder) of a common interest development (here a housing cooperative named Berkeley Town House) to enforce the rights of members and the obligations of the officials who govern and manage the development. My complaint sought compensation from the officials to the corporation for alleged damages, an order to the officials to address warnings of possible seismic vulnerabilities in the development’s building, and orders to correct and stop various alleged violations of required financial controls and freedom-of-information, open-meeting, and other procedural protections for democratic governance. This litigation ended on 27 October 2016, with a court-approved settlement between the cooperative and me. The litigation returned cash to the cooperative, gave it a professional study of seismic risks, made it disclose detailed financial records, made it revise its governing documents to comply with the law, and compensated me for $300,000 in legal fees and costs.

Mediator fees

In 1993 a roofing contractor started a fire that partially destroyed an office building that I owned at 6000 Southcenter Boulevard in Tukwila, Washington, doing business as Centerplex. This incident caused numerous landlord-tenant and insurance issues to arise. One of the ensuing disputes dealt with fees charged by the American Arbitration Association (AAA), for mediation of a dispute among a reconstruction contractor (Turner Construction Company), a tenant (Bernard, Pauly, and Bellamy), and me. I claimed that the mediator had promised to mediate landlord-tenant issues but failed to do so, and therefore not all fees charged by AAA were due. No agreement with AAA was reached, but after August 1994 AAA ceased demanding payment of the disputed amount.

The Centerplex business, which existed from 1990 until 2004, gave rise to numerous other legal controversies with tenants, contractors, government agencies, visitors, lenders, and vendors.

Rights of the Mentally Disabled versus Local Zoning and Property Rights

I was a defendant and, on appeal, respondent in New York cases that affirmed the power of the state to establish group homes for the mentally disabled in local communities despite conflicting zoning ordinances and homeowner-association restrictive covenants.

Bernard Grofman and I co-owned a single-family house within the Crane Neck Association in the village of Old Field, New York. In 1979 we leased the house to the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, which established there a group home for mentally disabled individuals. The Crane Neck Association and some of its individual members sued the state and us, claiming that our lease and the state’s use of the property violated the single-family restrictions in the village’s zoning ordinance and in the restrictive covenants binding the property. The highest state court, the New York Court of Appeals, decided that these restrictions were unenforceable against such group homes. The plaintiffs appealed this decision to the United States Supreme Court, which dismissed the appeal in 1984.

Attorney fees

In 1991 a collection agency sued me to collect attorney fees billed by Washington domestic relations attorney Susan G. Diamondstone and not paid to her (Seattle Division, King County District Court, case 91-009507). I counter-sued Diamondstone for recovery of fees paid, alleging that they were unreasonably excessive and that Diamondstone had violated various provisions of the fee contract and of the Washington Rules of Professional Conduct. In 1992 I won a judgment of $4,960 against Diamondstone. Diamondstone was subsequently transferred to disability inactive status by the Washington State Bar Association and in 2005 lost an appeal of this decision to the Supreme Court of the State of Washington.

Tenant rights

I was a member of a tenant union that conducted a rent strike and engaged in litigation with its landlord at 5238 South Kenwood Avenue in Chicago in 1969 and 1970. The tenant union succeeded in obtaining court supervision of repairs that the landlord (brothers Livingstone and Levinstein) had failed to make, before the tenant union paid the rent funds held in escrow to the landlord. The tenant union also mobilized community partners and engaged in publicity stunts, including a lease burning in front of the landlord’s agent, McKey & Pogue, which we called a “slumlord front organization”. After unknown perpetrators firebombed the McKey & Pogue office, we were questioned by the Chicago Police Department as apparent suspects.

Freedom of speech and press in the United States mails

In 1961 I protested the United States Post Office Department’s then-current practice of intercepting publications mailed to United States addresses from the People’s Republic of China and deemed “Communist political propaganda” and requiring the addressees to expressly request delivery of these items before the Post Office would deliver them. My protest took the form of statements written on the outsides of envelopes placed by me into the mail and addressed to various addressees. The office of the United States Postal Inspector contacted me and threatened to prosecute me for libel against the entire class of postal employees, i.e. for falsely accusing them of reading the mail instead of delivering it. I denied that my conduct was libel and asserted that it was protected as an exercise of free speech. The Post Office Department dropped the case.

Freedom of speech and religion in public schools

I refused to participate in the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag while a student in Grant School and in Lowell High School in San Francisco, California. Lowell High School decreased my “citizenship” grades and in 1960 withheld my high-school diploma as sanctions for this disobedience. Receiving no sympathy from teachers, friends, or relatives, I found solace in the San Francisco Law Library, where librarians and sources of case law helped me learn that the right not to be coerced into this ritual had been settled by the United States Supreme Court in 1943 in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. Lowell never admitted its fault, but did belatedly provide a diploma to me. I allowed the decreased citizenship grades to stand.

Right to picket

In 1960 my brother, a friend, and I picketed a retail food store in San Francisco, protesting what we asserted were unsanitary conditions. The store operator summoned the police. The police arrested us and charged us with violation of a San Francisco ordinance prohibiting standing on the sidewalk in a business district when not as close as practicable to the building line or the curb line. As minors, we were required to attend hearings administered by the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department. In my hearing, the probation officer asked me to promise not to engage in such picketing again, warning that otherwise I would be subject to punishment. I refused and, instead, promised that I would picket again. The Probation Department dropped the case.