A Citizen, Pro Se

April 17, 2008

More Unilateral Chicanery by ICRC

Filed under: Uncategorized — acitizenprose @ 6:41 pm

(see update below for later thoughts and correction on the term ‘Consent Agreement’))

At 2:30 today, while I was working on my ‘ICRC’s ‘Defense by Proxy’ of Landlord’s Acts’ for posting tonight, the mailman came to my door with a fat certified letter from the Indiana Civil Rights Commission (ICRC). “What are they trying now?” I growled, taking the letter from him. I held the letter up to him and tapped my finger on the return address. “Your tax dollars at work,” I said, “obstructing justice.”

Not knowing what to expect, I finished re-formatting my document before opening the letter. (‘Damn if I’m gonna let them throw me off track again!’ I muttered to myself, typing.) I had committed myself to preparing two documents for posting tonight, and I made sure I accomplished that goal.

When I had finished my document and gotten myself comfortable and prepared to deal with whatever new outrage ICRC was going to throw my way, I opened the letter — and laughed out loud, hard and long, once I understood what they were doing.

They sent me a Consent Agreement!

What makes this so absurd? So many things, it will be hard to explain. A ‘Consent Agreement’ is supposed to be the outcome of meetings involving all the parties in the ‘conciliation’ process (also ‘mediation’ or the ‘ADR’ process [update: see later comments below]). The Consent Agreement I received today was unilaterally drafted by the ICRC Investigator and the Repsondent, obviously with an attorney’s assistance, but WITHOUT INPUT FROM THE COMPLAINANT (which would be me).

Now, the conciliation process is suppsed to include Official Trained Mediators along with the parties, and is supposed to be a process of discussion and negotiaton in which, eventually, the parties come to an agreement — the consent agreement. In the course of the negotiations, the Complainant can set enforceable terms such as civil rights compliance training for the Respondent (including all employees), and even monetary damages. Think any of those things are mentioned in the Consent Agreement I received? Well, gee, folks . . . they aren’t. Imagine that.

I haven’t had the time to give the Consent Agreement a thorough analysis, but here’s what jumps out at me at first glance. If I were to sign this agreement, I would be agreeing :

  • To waive my right to take this case to court (as it stands, I can file a case in Federal court up to two years after ICRC finishes dealing with the case; think I’m gonna give that up?)
  • To withdraw the complaint in this and any other venue (so the ICRC case would stop, as would the Section 504 investigation that’s just beginning)
  • To “agree to keep the terms and conditions of this settlement agreement in complete confidence[*] and further agree not to disclose or discuss anything revealed during the mediation conference [which never took place] with any person who is not a party to this agreement.” hahaha. hahahahaha. hahaHAHAHA HAHAHAHAHA!

And what would I get in return for giving up these rights? Well, I wouldn’t have to sign the Service Animal contracts — but I don’t have to sign them anyway, they would be indefensible in an eviction proceeding, particularly now with the nice, new, crisp letter from the Respondent that was included with the Consent Agreement. And the Respondent would no longer impose Service Animal contracts on any resident of the housing complex where I live — although the Respondent’s over 2000 units in 13 complexes in two states aren’t mentioned, and would still be subject to the Landlord’s ‘requirement’ of the contracts. And ICRC — yes, good old reliable ICRC, that bastion in defense of the law! — would be the one to oversee the Respondent’s compliance with the agreement.

Sound like a good deal to you?

Sounds like a good deal for ICRC and the Respondent. ICRC could close the books on a troublesome case, and could submit a bill to the Chicago office for the $2500 bonus that comes with a ‘conciliated’ case. The Respondent gets NO sanctions, no requirement for improvement, and doesn’t have to change a thing that they’re doing.

A note on ‘complete confidence[*]’ above: When one agrees to enter into the conciliation process, the law and regs say that the ‘default’ assumption for the process is that it will be conducted in complete confidentiality, unless both parties sign an agreement rescinding the confidentiality requirement. This is meant to allow free, open discussion without the parties having to worry that something they said might be quoted against them later. However, if new evidence comes to light during conciliation, the parties and the agency may investigate further based on something that is said, and if that investigation produces new evidence, that evidence is admissable. But this part of the Consent Agreement goes further than that. This part of the Consent Agreement, in effect, would have me agree to a ‘gag order’ — to never say or write anything about this case to anyone, ever again.

Think that’s gonna happen?

A few more important points before I finish this rant: First, I NEVER AGREED TO ENTER THE CONCILIATION PROCESS — in fact, I declined to participate, verbally (two events in May 2007) and in writing (June or July 2007, also included in my December 2007 appeals packet). Second, my most important reason for declining participation in the conciliation process had to do with the requirement that I give up (limit) my Freedom of Speech — which, for me, is a genuine matter of conscience (and matters of conscience share equal protection with Freedom of Religion in the Indiana Constitution). I informed my attorney, verbally and in writing, that I didn’t think conciliation was appropriate for this case, and that even if I were to consider conciliation, the first step would have to be having both parties sign a non-confidentiality agreement, because I cannot in conscience give up or limit my divinely-given, inherent Right to Free Speech.

So what good came out of this Consent Agreement, besides 45 minutes of good, gut-shaking laughter? That nifty little letter from the Landlord that means I never have to worry about a Service Animal contract, or the threat of eviction because of my Buddy, ever again. I got that for free, without signing their bogus Consent Agreement. And I got a perfectly wonderful reason to email the new ICRC Director, Tony Kirkland, to introduce him to the irregular performance of the department he’s just inherited from recently (and mysteriously) retired Director Gregory Kellam Scott. And (she said, rubbing her hands together with glee) I get to go back to 24 CFR and find out just how much of an infraction it is for ICRC to produce a ‘Consent Agreement’ without the knowledge or participation of the Complainant — which will come in handy as I try to go after ICRC’s certification in order to force HUD/FHEO to enforce ICRC’s compliance with Federally-established performance standards. So all in all, it’s been a good day.

And one last note on ‘Unilateral Chicanery’ in my title: Why ‘unilateral’ if two parties were involved (ICRC and Respondent)? Beause they are ‘one side’ (unilateral), one in their shared actions to evade the law, rather than observe it. And ‘chicanery’? Well, the word just occurred to me, so I put it in — then I looked it up in my old Webster’s —

Chicanery: deception by artful subterfuge or sophistry; trickery; a piece of sharp practice (as at law); trick

Hmmm. A bogus contract, drawn up by people on the government payroll, mailed at tapayer’s expense to a Complainant, in the hopes that she will be sufficiently intimidated by A Big Official Document Coming By Certified Mail that she will sign away her rights and sign herself into permanent enforceable silence about a HUD Project-based Section 8 Landlord’s violations of the Fair Housing Act and about the state HUD enforcement agency’s apparent malfeasance. And the agency can get a bonus of more Federal money if she signs.

Yep. Sounds like chicanery to me.

— Update, later the same evening —

I’ve settled down somewhat from the emotional tsunami that came as a result of that letter — a combination of outrage at the audacity of a unilaterally-produced ‘Consent Agreement’ and of relief that the letter didn’t contain something worse.  As the evening has worn on and I’ve had time to reflect, I’ve discovered some further sobering considerations.

There’s a real possibility that ICRC could use their ‘Consent Agreement’ to make it seem as though I’ve agreed to a document that was created without my knowledge, involvement, or consent.  ICRC has already ‘invented’ evidence (and yes, I can substantiate that).  So what’s to stop them from waving this Consent Agreement around and using it as ‘evidence’ to support a false position that ‘the case was resolved by agreement’?  Frankly, given some of the things they’ve done so far in this case, I wouldn’t put it past them.

The other troubling thing is this:  Throughout the post above, I described the term ‘Consent Agreement’ as though it is the final result of the conciliation process.  This is because I haven’t read the laws or regulations surrounding conciliation since last summer, after I decided that I wouldn’t engage in the process.  I remembered that the conciliation process ended with a ‘Something Agreement’.  Since today’s document contains some elements that would be seen in an actual conciliation agreement, but is titled ‘Consent Agreement,’ I mistakenly assumed that the document I received today was a result of a one-sided, bogus ‘conciliation’ process that excluded me.

Now I’m guessing that I was intended to think that.

I’ve just re-read the portions of 24 CFR and of the Indiana Code dealing with the concililation process.  Both Federal and State law define the term ‘conciliation agreement’ (as, of course, the final product of conciliation).  Neither the State nor the Federal Fair Housing Act laws contain the term ‘Consent Agreement’.  And both levels of law define the conciliation agreement as a document that must be made public.

If I *had* agreed to engage in the conciliation process, and if the Respondent’s attorney had drafted a preliminary example of what s/he’d like the final agreement to look like, that draft would probably look just like the Consent Agreement I received today from ICRC.  The ‘gag order’ portion of the draft document (see above) would have been stricken from the document immediately — probably by the mediator, and certainly by myself or my attorney.

ICRC’s authority is defined and limited by Federal and State law.  ICRC has the authority to produce a ‘conciliation agreement’ at the end of a valid conciliation process.  ICRC does not have the authority to produce a ‘consent agreement’.

I’ve written elsewhere about ICRC’s investigator presenting a ‘defense by proxy’ on behalf of the Respondent.  In this Consent Agreement, ICRC staff has acted, at taxpayer’s expense, as the Respondent’s attorney.

And this just leaves me speechless.

 

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