Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Herhold: Small claims commissioner owes us an explanation

By Scott Herhold - Mercury News Columnist - 07/08/2009

Three years ago, Efreen Gonzales, the owner of a modest Hollister landscaping business, endured the kind of unfolding disaster that occurs to the rest of us only in our worst nightmares.

Gonzales had loaned a 1990 maroon Oldsmobile Cutlass to a relative, who left the car parked on the street when he had the misfortune to die. The Gilroy police ordered the car towed.

The tower, Paul S. Greer, then sued Gonzales in small claims court for towing and storage fees. When Gonzales didn't show, Greer won by default. In July 2006, Greer obtained an order from Commissioner Greg Saldivar to drain $4,000 from Gonzales' bank account.

The first big problem with this chain of events had to do with fairness. Gonzales said he was never notified of the small claims suit and thus had no chance to defend himself. The first time he heard of it was when he got a notice that his bank accounts would be examined.

When he tried to explain this to Saldivar in the 2006 hearing, the commissioner cut him off. But a property manager at the apartment building where the small claims notice was allegedly delivered backed up Gonzales' story. He said he hadn't lived there for a decade.

The second big problem was that Gonzales was hardly the only victim. Court records reflected a pattern of people who said they were never notified, mistaken for someone else or had sold their car long before it was towed. In virtually every case, Saldivar ruled against them.

Greer and his father, Vincent Cardinalli Sr., now face a 169-count indictment charging that they exploited the small-claims system to gouge fees from victims.

A process server for Greer, Jeff Horan, pleaded no contest to six counts of perjury and one count of conspiracy to defraud.

Read the rest of the story:
Herhold: Small claims commissioner owes us an explanation

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