Final arguments wrap up in National Lodge trial
on March 2, 2012
Final arguments wrapped up Friday morning in the case of the City of Oakland v Hiral Patel, the owner of the National Lodge, at state superior court in Hayward. Patel is accused of failing to discourage prostitution on hotel property and a judge will now decide whether the motel should be shut down.
The Oakland City Attorney’s office sued the National Lodge, which is located at International Boulevard and 17th Avenue, as well as the Economy Inn on East 12th Street, in December, 2010, under California’s Red Light Abatement Act, which requires hotel owners to prevent prostitution on their property. According to the city’s suit, the motel has a long history of profiting from prostitution, and the motel owners have not done enough to curtail the problem since the city notified the hotel owners of legal issues in 2006.
While Patel’s attorney, Daniel Horowitz, acknowledged in court documents that there has been prostitution at the hotel in the ensuing years, hotel staff maintain they have tried to stop prostitution but the city won’t work with them, and say that it’s hardly their fault International Boulevard is a haven for illegal sex trafficking. “They’re doing what they’re supposed to do,” Horowitz told the judge. “They take the court very seriously.”
On Friday, state superior court Judge Brenda Harbin-Forte did not have any more questions for either the defense, represented by Horowitz, or the plaintiffs, represented by Maggie Stern of the Oakland City Attorney’s office, and Reve Bautista, a private attorney.
During the short hearing, the attorneys and judge discussed “proposed statement of decision” documents submitted to the court earlier this week, which detail what each side believes the court’s ruling should be.
The city’s statement details “uncontested” incidents of prostitution at the motel since 2006, including references to a 13-year-old girl and a 16-year-old girl working out of the motel as prostitutes. It alleges that Patel was not only aware of prostitution on the premises, but that the business “caters to such activity.”
Stern echoed those sentiments in court Friday, finishing up her remarks by saying that the hotel owner fought the city over a demand to put up a gate to slow down walk-up customer activity. “It almost seems like their business caters to [prostitution],” she said.
In their statement of decision, attorneys for the city wrote that any slowdown of prostitution activity at the motel is due to increased police presence in the area and to a preliminary injunction issued against the motel in 2010. The City Attorney’s Office is asking the judge to shut down the motel for at least one year.
Horowitz, though, told the judge that his clients want to cooperate but that “the city never wanted to work with these people” until the case went before a judge. He said hotel staff are “doing what they’re supposed to do” in kicking out who they believe to be prostitutes and Johns, and that “they take the court’s ruling seriously.”
In the defense’s proposed statement of decision, Horowitz argued that the nuisance has been “abated” since the city filed the injunction in 2010 and there is “insufficient evidence” to find Patel guilty and shut down the hotel.
Harbin-Forte said she is considering the prosecution’s argument that once attention is less focused on the hotel, it will return to catering to prostitutes. “When you’re in school and the principal is watching you, you do everything right,” Harbin-Forte said. “And when the principal turns their back, you go back to doing what you were doing before.”
Harbin-Forte has 90 days to make a decision, and did not indicate when the ruling would come. The Economy Inn trial begins on April 13, meaning Harbin-Forte may not have made a decision in the National Lodge case before that trial starts, which would otherwise give trial-watchers an indication of which way she would lean on the second trial.
Horowitz, who also represents the owners of the Economy Inn, said in an interview after the Friday’s hearing that he doesn’t believe the city wants to work on a deal with the hotels “on any level.” He said his clients are victims of the kind of business that goes on day and night on International Boulevard.
“The owners’ complaint is the street is rife with drugs and prostitution and they can’t do anything about that,” Horowitz said.
City Attorney Barbara Parker disagrees, saying in a phone interview Friday afternoon that it was “disingenuous” for Horowitz to argue that Patel isn’t responsible for what is going on around his property. “To assert they’ve been doing everything they can when [prostitution] has been going on for years is unacceptable,” Parker said.
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