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Report: Judge Refuses to Evict Fentanyl Dealer, Worried Somebody Might Get COVID If Sheriffs Execute Court Order

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A short list of things it’s well established can kill people:

1) COVID-19.

2) Fentanyl.

Call me a January 2020 kind of guy, but I’m still under the impression that fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s partially responsible for the rise of drug-related deaths we’ve seen in recent years, is a bit more deadly than the novel coronavirus.

Now, granted, I don’t know the age of sheriff’s deputies in St. Louis County, Missouri. I’m going to assume they’re probably young and fit — which means they’re unlikely to die of COVID.

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Meanwhile, deaths from fentanyl overdose are shockingly common.

According to a report from PJ Media’s Megan Fox, however, a judge in the county thinks it’s more problematic to evict fentanyl dealers from apartment buildings. Judge Michael Burton has paused all evictions in the county, including ones that almost anyone with a brain would welcome.

In a Friday report, Fox said that Burton “has been implementing COVID precautions so severe that county sheriffs are being told not to evict people even if they’re drug-dealing criminals, endangering the lives of Saint Louis County residents, according to eviction attorney Matthew Chase of The Chase Law Firm, PC.”

“Chase told PJM that Judge Burton is abdicating his responsibility to the citizens of Saint Louis County in favor of keeping his sheriff’s officers ‘safe’ from COVID. Strangely, though, the sheriffs are serving other notices like garnishments and summons … but they are prohibited by Burton from attaching eviction orders to doors and carrying out executions.”

The report is part of Fox’s series on corruption and ineptitude in the Missouri judiciary. Burton isn’t on record here, which should surprise no one.

Chase, meanwhile, is representing a client whose building has a serious issue with fentanyl dealers, several of whom have taken up residence on a floor with senior citizens.

One of the senior citizens, Fox reported, was “coerced” into renting a room to “dangerous strangers” by the fentanyl dealers.

“The management installed cameras to stop the activity but the ‘renters’ started coming through the man’s window from the roof,” she wrote. “The manager of the building felt that his senior citizen tenant was being intimidated and coerced by criminals. Chase filed for eviction on the manager’s behalf and received a judgment to evict the dealers from Associate Judge Julia Lasater on January 28, giving them five days to vacate the building.”

And then we get to Judge Burton. Missouri law requires, in cases of eviction, that sheriffs are to carry out “execution of possession of premises.” Burton, being the “boss” of the sheriffs, had to sign off on it — something he refused to do, given the risk of COVID and the suspension of evictions.

Attorneys then sent a letter to Burton outlining why this wasn’t a typical eviction request.

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“I understand that this is a large request. Further, I understand the Court’s reasoning behind the administrative order; both the safety of the officers and the concern of mass homelessness during a global pandemic due to the inability to pay rent. However, this case is not rooted in anything financial,” the letter, dated Feb. 2, read.

“These Defendants are engaged in the sale of fentanyl in an apartment building that has other residents; some of which are children. As you are aware, the human body is highly susceptible to the effects fentanyl and fentanyl can be absorbed into the body via inhalation, oral exposure or ingestion, or skin contact. All of which are commonplace in an apartment building.”

Burton refused, saying he wouldn’t allow the eviction until all the deputies were vaccinated.

Do you think these fentanyl sellers should have been evicted?

“I have been doing my best to get our Sheriff’s Office vaccinated before the rest of us in this Courthouse,” the judge wrote, according to Fox. “They are prioritized because they are members of the law enforcement grouping, spelled out by the [state Department of Health and Senior Services]. The local Department of Public Health finally agreed with my argument and began scheduling the Sheriff’s Office yesterday.

“I believe that they are scheduled for next week.  By the end of this month, I will definitely look at exceptions to the ban on executions of evictions. Your case certainly sounds like it would be appropriate for such a response. Thanks for your email.”

Chase noted the building would usually be empty when the sheriffs were to carry out the “execution of possession of premises.”

“But when eviction time comes, all sheriff’s deputies have to do is call the local police who are the ones who remove people physically from homes if they don’t go quietly,” he said. “In an overwhelming majority of evictions in the state of Missouri, likely above 90 percent, when the sheriffs arrive the premises are vacant and sheriffs merely have to oversee the landlord changing the locks.”

Attorneys asked Burton to allow local law enforcement to physically deal with the fentanyl merchants, but he refused.

On Thursday, they emailed him again, noting that he “previously stated that you would look at exceptions to the eviction ban at the end of the month.” The judge again denied the request, according to the report.

Thankfully, other people charged with enforcing the law are apparently less pusillanimous than Burton is.

“Unbeknownst to the attorneys who were struggling with Judge Burton, the client had reached out to police on his own the week of February 26 with a desperate plea for them to help the people in his building suffering as a result of the criminal behavior,” Fox wrote. “Local police stepped in and did what the sheriffs would not. Upon receiving notice of the order delivered by police the dealers left on their own accord on the 27th.”

I guess we should be thankful that, at some level, our law enforcement system works. Chase, however, is generally unhappy with judges like Burton who refuse to enforce any eviction notice.

“Staff, managers, secretaries: they all have to be paid. Property taxes still have to be paid! Garbage fees, water bills, there is no moratorium on those things and my clients have to pay those bills,”  Chase said.

“And most of the big clients I have that are funded by hedge funds are taking the hit because they don’t want to be the bad guy. But the little guy and the medium-sized guys — they’re drowning.”

Assuming the report is accurate, a refusal to evict fentanyl dealers is the reductio ad absurdum of eviction bans come to life.

Think about it: If you were arguing this in a debate tournament and you were taking the side that blanket bans shouldn’t be enacted, your argument would be, “Look, if you say people can’t be evicted at all because they might be in the midst of adverse financial circumstances or sheriff’s deputies might get infected with COVID, you could literally have a case where fentanyl dealers are allowed to remain in an apartment.”

If your opponent were a normal person, his or her response would be that such an extreme case would obviously invite the intervention of the proper authorities. If your opponent were Judge Michael Burton, his response apparently would be something like: “Yeah, that seems fair. Safety first.”

Yes, COVID can be deadly. However, it isn’t more dangerous than a synthetic opioid that can kill people merely by being absorbed through the skin.

I can only assume that if no one has directly informed Burton of this, he’s seen one of the 1,391 reports on the dangers of fentanyl that have aired on the local news. Yet, he’s still more afraid that sheriff’s deputies might get COVID from enforcing the law and potentially stopping innocent people from dying due to exposure to opioids.

If this report is accurate, yes, a branch of law enforcement ended up doing its job. Burton’s refusal to allow the branch of law enforcement under his purview to do its job, however, is the height of cowardice.

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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