During its Tuesday regular meeting, Berkeley City Council is scheduled to discuss adopting a resolution that, if passed, will request an examination of the Alameda County probate court’s legal practices.
An item proposed by Councilmember Kriss Worthington, Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmember Darryl Moore will request a grand jury to investigate the probate court in light of accusations that certain court proceedings are unjustly impacting the black community. Worthington said the item comes to City Council after receiving numerous concerns from the Save Black Berkeley coalition, which aims to raise awareness of the unjust practices of the probate court.
“(So) many families are losing their homes and it seems like the structure of how the court is operating seems to end up with a large amount of the value of the home taken away from the court proceedings,” Worthington said. According to Save Black Berkeley coalition member Ayohenia Offutt-Chaney, when disputes over inheritance occur in Alameda County, the probate court appoints an administrator to act as a mediator between the parties.
After Offutt-Chaney’s uncle passed away with no known will stating his heir, the Alameda probate court assigned an administrator to the case in order to resolve the issue of inheritance. Offutt-Chaney said the court proceeded to notify out-of-state family members, who were unaware of the property’s existence.
Offutt-Chaney said even in the absence of a will, her mother — who has served as her great-uncle’s emergency contact for more than 30 years — is the only close relative who lays claim to the property along with her children. Offutt-Chaney alleged that court lawyers falsely claimed that the family was living in the property based on a verbal lease with her uncle, which then led to her family being evicted from the property in June.
To resolve the dispute, the property was put on the market, and once it is sold, each of the stakeholders will receive a portion of the profits. A significant portion of the revenue Offutt-Chaney’s family would receive, however, will be needed to pay legal fees to the administrator, lawyers and court, Offutt-Chaney said.
Offutt-Chaney said her great-uncle fought discrimination to buy his homes decades ago, when redlining was legal, and is now losing it due to this court process that has affected roughly 70 families in the East Bay area.
“Our homes are the last thing we have,” Offutt-Chaney said. “Discriminatory practices are happening and we’re losing them regardless.”
The regular City Council meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the City Council Chambers. It will be preceded by a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. concerning the maintenance of the city’s infrastructure and a presentation by President Rowena Tomaneng of Berkeley City College.