Together, we do the community justice.
       
 
Loading

ABLE:
Advocates for Basic Legal Equality on Facebook Advocates for Basic Legal Equality on Twitter Advocates for Basic Legal Equality on LinkedIn

LAWO:
LAWO on Facebook LAWO on Twitter LAWO on LinkedIn


City restores water to blameless family


FEBRUARY 16, 2010

City restores water to blameless family

The following story, featuring George Thomas (LAWO), appeared online in The Toledo Journal on February 16, 2010. Read below, or view the contents on The Toledo Journal Web site.

A Luckey, Ohio, man's bankruptcy resulted in 17 days of no water for a Toledo woman and her family.

But thanks to a judge's ruling, the water was back on Feb. 12 for Sabrina Marshall, who has resided at 935 Woodstock Ave. for more than 10 years under a land-contract. U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Richard L. Speer lifted a stay on Feb. 11, in effect ordering the city's Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to offer water service to that address.
 

FEBRUARY 16, 2010

City restores water to blameless family

The following story, featuring George Thomas (LAWO), appeared online in The Toledo Journal on February 16, 2010. Read below, or view the contents on The Toledo Journal Web site.

A Luckey, Ohio, man's bankruptcy resulted in 17 days of no water for a Toledo woman and her family.

But thanks to a judge's ruling, the water was back on Feb. 12 for Sabrina Marshall, who has resided at 935 Woodstock Ave. for more than 10 years under a land-contract. U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Richard L. Speer lifted a stay on Feb. 11, in effect ordering the city's Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to offer water service to that address.

"We could have fought it but I said no, it doesn't make any sense to make her go through all of those hoops," said Jeff Pax, who supervises DPU's customer service division.

Ms. Marshall paid a $200 deposit for non-owner service and had her water turned on the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 12.

"I really appreciate the judge's decision because it was the right decision," Ms. Marshall said.

Her opinion of the DPU hasn't change, though.

"I still think they were dead wrong and they should have to answer to someone about this," she said. "They really need to do a better job of helping people in situations like mine."

Working on behalf of Ms. Marshall was George Thomas, an attorney with Legal Aid of Western Ohio (LAWO). He earlier petitioned Municipal Court Judge C. Allen McConnell, but was turned down. He then petitioned the bankruptcy court and had Judge Speer's ruling in Ms. Marshall's favor within a couple of hours after filing.

"I still think it shouldn't have been necessary," Mr. Thomas said about petitioning the courts.

Ms. Marshall had her water shut off Jan. 26. The house, in the view of the DPU, remains in the legal possession of James Jergens, who recently filed for bankruptcy protection. The DPU offered the Luckey man a contract changeover, but wanted "adequate assurance" that he would pay his water bill while in bankruptcy. Mr. Jergens declined the offer, prompting the utility to deny water to Ms. Marshall's family.

"Can they do this? Is this legal? I mean, what about my rights?" Ms. Marshall said prior to Judge Speer's order.

What DPU did wasn't illegal, Mr. Thomas said. At the same time, it wasn't compulsory for the utility to shut off service, he said. The Toledo municipal code says water "may" be cut off under such circumstances, he noted.

"They didn't have to do that. They have the option of whether to terminate water service," Mr. Thomas said.

He filed a complaint in Municipal Court asserting Ms. Marshall's right to buy water from the city, but Judge McConnell said the bankruptcy court had jurisdiction. Regarding the DPU stance, Mr. Thomas said, "Personally, I feel it's reflective of a darker time, really, a time when you had to own land to have rights."

The LAWO attorney said he'd like to see the house declared the property of Ms. Marshall, who has been paying toward her land contract since December 1999. He hopes to negotiate an agreement with the mortgage holder, Chase Bank.

"For purposes of equity, she is the owner," Mr. Thomas said, referring to the decade of payments.

Ms. Marshall said she also has spent about $10,000 on renovating and improving the property over the years, including new shingles and new windows. She lives there with the youngest three of her six children, age 17, 16 and 15. She also cares for three of her grandchildren on an almost daily basis while their mothers go to work or attend school. Ms. Marshall said she had been buying plenty of bottled water since the Jan. 26 cut-off. Fortunately, a cousin lives next door and allowed her and her family to use his bathroom. The situation was still burdensome, especially on cold and snowy days, she said.

Prior to the Bankruptcy Court ruling, Ms. Marshall said she spoke to at least five employees in the DPU's customer service division, including Mr. Pax. No one was concerned that her family lacked water, she said.

"All they keep on saying is this property is in bankruptcy and you're not the owner and we don't have to talk to you," she said. "The water department is very rude. No one has tried to help."

Prior to Judge Speer's ruling, Tom Crothers, the DPU's new director, returned a call to The Journal regarding the situation. He also had Mr. Pax and Joyce Anagnos, a senior attorney for the city, on the phone line. Neither of the three answered directly when asked whether, as Mr. Thomas contended, the DPU had the option of keeping the water on at 935 Woodstock. In fact, Ms. Anagnos was the only one to respond, saying that it was a matter for the court.

"Jurisdiction lies with the bankruptcy court," she said.

The city officials were asked if they realized that three teens and three of Ms. Marshall's grandchildren also live in the house. Only Ms. Anagnos replied. If Ms. Marshall believes she's entitled to relief or has rights, the attorney said, "she needs to pursue those ... through bankruptcy court."

Ms. Marshall said was surprised and hurt that the city would shut off water to a family because of an out-of-town man's bankruptcy.

The city has the power to help me," she said. "It's really messed up."

Thanks to LAWO's Mr. Thomas and Judge Speer, the mess has been cleaned up.