The District, under court order to pay contempt fines until overnight shelters for the homeless are improved, has paid about $2 million in fines since February.
The fines were ordered by Superior Court Judge Harriett R. Taylor when she found the city in contempt of an agreement to improve conditions in shelters for single adults. The agreement was reached after lawyers representing the homeless took the city to court.
Now those lawyers are asserting that the city has failed to pay thousands of dollars in fines. Attorney Stephen W. Brice, who represents the homeless, said that Taylor on Feb. 20 ordered the city to pay $15,000 a day "until further order of this court." As of June 5, Brice said, the city had paid about $1.9 million to the court registry -- $470,000 less than it owes.
City officials disagree, arguing that the city has complied on one major issue, involving transportation to and from emergency shelters, and therefore owes $10,000 a day.
"Contempt fines are meant to be imposed until you comply," said Janice Woodward, special assistant to the commissioner of social services. "As you rectify each individual infraction, the fine either rises or falls." Thus, she said, the city is fulfilling its obligation. Brice said the city has failed to provide sufficient information to prove its compliance, despite requests that it do so.
"Until the court orders reduction of the fine, they should be paying $15,000 a day," Brice said. "They can't just take it upon themselves to say, 'We are in compliance.' "
Woodward said, "That's a legal issue I won't offer comment on."