Citizens group wants to mount legal offensive against City Hall

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Neil Johnson
Wednesday, July 30, 2014

JANESVILLE—A group of Janesville residents is trying to mount a legal defense fund aimed at forcing the city to change its ways on sidewalks, code enforcement and even the city's at-large city council structure.

A Janesville citizens group calling itself the Citizens Association for Rights and Dignity, or CARD, unveiled plans for a “citizen defense fund” at a meeting of residents last week in the community room at Basics Cooperative Natural Foods.

CARD bills itself on its website as a nonpolitical citizens advocacy group that was established in 2003. The group's organizer, K. Andreah Briarmoon, said it's trying to raise membership fees of $10,000 to hire an attorney, and raise an additional $100,000 to $120,000 a year to establish a legal war chest.

The group's mission, according to a mailer sent to residents, is to collect membership fees of $50 per person to retain a lawyer who would file lawsuits to “protect the rights” of residents. As of last week, the group had about 20 donations, Briarmoon said.

The group says it seeks to raise funds every year to pay an attorney to fight against city decisions, including the city's seven-year sidewalk plan.

The fund could fuel court actions to block repeated city code inspection fines for property owners, which the group argues amounts to “code stalking.” And it could establish legal protection for people who would face relocation because of city projects that would mean demolition of their homes.

The group's first meeting for its legal fund last week came on the heels of it sending out mailers to more than 2,100 people who Briarmoon said live within the footprint of the city's sidewalk construction schedule.

In past years, some residents have lobbied the city council to halt plans to fill in gaps in the city where no sidewalks exist, arguing that it's a cost burden on residents who can't afford the construction.

Briarmoon said the mailers were sent to residents in the sidewalk plan to “get a base” of people who may feel disenfranchised by city decisions.

“This is the bottom line: We want a corporate litigation attorney that represents the rights of the citizens, period. That would give a balance of power to the people,” Briarmoon said.

The power would be limited to the scope of battles chosen by the group's lawyer, she said. Members would not get to vote on what issues the lawyer would pursue.

Members of the legal fund would have meetings once or twice a month for updates, but a lawyer would research and strategize what issues to focus on, Briarmoon said.

The group's plan, Briarmoon said, could be to flood Rock County Court with dozens of lawsuits against the city.

Briarmoon said the group is advertising sidewalks as its top issue, “but the key strategy might be to start with 40 jury trials against individual code fines. That could be one strategy,” Briarmoon said.

Other goals of the legal defense fund, according to the mailer, include:

-- Court actions against city wheel taxes, garbage taxes.

-- Court actions to force the city to switch to a ward alderman system instead of an at-large council system.

The group, has been in touch with two lawyers, including a Milwaukee lawyer the group says has handled citizen lawsuits against insurance companies and municipalities.

Briarmoon said one lawyer has told the group if they hired him, he'd exclusively represent the legal defense fund and “have a lot of fun in Janesville.”

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