Which of these three men wasn’t given a chance to offer a defense before being deprived of his life, liberty or property?
a) Saddam Hussein, the deposed Iraqi president tied to the killings of 148 Shi’ites in his own country.
b) Charles Manson, the madman charged with conspiracy to commit murder in the deaths of California residents including actress Sharon Tate.
c) Adam Peters, a guy who bought and fixed up a worn Wilkes-Barre house, then rented it.
Hint: Hussein and Manson each got trials before receiving sentences of death by hanging and life imprisonment, respectively; granted, Hussein’s trial was lousy. Nevertheless, he got one.
But Peters, who to the best of our knowledge is a 20-something, law-abiding Montgomery County resident, was given no such courtesy before the city of Wilkes-Barre stripped him of control of his property — an apartment unit on Carlisle Street.
He became the first, but regrettably not last, target of the city’s recently enacted one-strike ordinance that purportedly is an effort to reduce crime. The city — assuming role of judge, jury and executioner/evictor — temporarily closes properties to which police respond and charge people with certain drug-related or weapon-related crimes.
Presumably, under this contorted constitutional logic, the Wilkes-Barre police arrest only guilty people. And landlords presumably know about and condone the illicit activities of their tenants, thereby deserving to be immediately punished.
In Peters’ situation, city police raided his building in mid-September, allegedly seizing from one rental unit crack cocaine and about $30,000 cash. City officials ordered the unit closed for six months, until March 2014.
Last week, fully two months after the shutdown was imposed and Peters started losing rental income on the empty unit, the landlord had a chance to state his case. He appealed the city Code Enforcement Office’s decision before the city’s Housing Appeals Board.
Next stop: Luzerne County Court.
The American Civil Liberties Union recently injected some needed sanity into this otherwise loony Luzerne County saga, sending the city a letter in which it claims the ordinance violates the First, Fifth and 14th amendments to the Constitution. (A few more, and the city might have dealt a Bill of Rights flush.)
Presumably, a judge somewhere in the appeals process between Wilkes-Barre and Washington will smack down this ordinance.
Then, Peters, who owns a trucking firm, presumably will file a lawsuit in civil court, alleging the city’s wrong-headed law caused him to lose money, sleep and time, and it sullied his reputation as a businessman.
Presumably, Peters’ attorneys, while adding some zeros to the dollar amount of the award they seek from the city, will point out to a jury how city officials crafted and approved their one-strike ordinance knowing full well the consequences of Luzerne County’s kids-for-cash scandal, wherein juveniles were railroaded through the justice system and barely given time to speak for themselves, much less mount a defense.
Presumably those same lawyers, while adding still more zeroes, will draw attention to the familial connections between the city’s mayor, assistant city attorney and police chief, painting this area as some kind of real-life Hazzard County, where a Boss Hogg can simply make up rules.
Then again, it’s never smart to presume too much. Is it?