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Small Claims Litigant (winner) vs. Meth House (loser)

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Who would have thought to use Oregon Small Claims Court to shut down a meth house? A very creative lawyer, that’s who!

See the story in the July 2008 issue of the Oregon State Bar (OSB) Bulletin, Oregon’s War on Methamphetamine,” by Janine Robbin.

Excerpts:

“It’s been called a “war” on methamphetamine.

But some of Oregon’s “warriors” aren’t law enforcement officers; they’re lawyers.
And they aren’t just lawyers who prosecute drug crimes. They’re a county counsel who’s become an internationally sought-after speaker on meth; a legislator; a deputy district attorney assigned to neighborhoods; ….

… another Portland lawyer was combating meth using another source of law — civil law.

As a result, Greg Abbott became the first — and to his knowledge — still the only private-practice attorney in Oregon to use a state anti-nuisance statute to shut down a suspected meth house.

Abbott met with Hayden and community police officers, then suggested that the residents file a complaint under ORS 105.550 et seq., which allows a person residing or doing business in the county where the property is located to bring a civil action to restrain or enjoin a nuisance. Such actions can result in orders directing the closure of property for any purpose for up to one year.

But nobody in the neighborhood wanted to put their name on the lawsuit.

“So I did,” says Abbott. “I’m single and I don’t have a family; that might have made a difference.” ….

Abbott could have filed his lawsuit in either circuit or small claims court. He chose small claims court: “If I screwed it up,” he notes, “there was no point in making it more expensive than it had to be.”

The civil statute he used has a number of plaintiff-friendly provisions. Actions filed under it take precedence over everything except “prior matters of the same character,” criminal proceedings and election contests. Plaintiffs who file in circuit court can seek damages for mental suffering, emotional distress, inconvenience and interference with use of property, and reasonable attorneys’ fees. And in either court, the burden of proof is by the preponderance of the evidence, with opinion evidence allowed.

Abbott says the provision for opinion evidence means that “You can bring in all the neighbors to testify that they think drug activity is going on.”

“Have them build a log: ‘Someone arrives at the house at 10:02, leaves at 10:08,’” advises Abbott, citing a technique that the Multnomah County DA’s Office also uses to obtain search warrants for suspected drug houses. “Then have someone come in and say that’s indicative of drug activity.”

Abbott says his case settled mid-trial when the owner agreed to sell the property.” She (eventually) sold it to a couple of guys who were looking to flip it. The neighbors are now happy.”’ (link to full story)