Naser Nasralla, the homeless man known as "Jimmy" who lives in a tent near a stretch of railroad tracks in Northridge, woke up this Monday after only a few hours sleep. As usual, he fed the stray, abandoned cats in his neighborhood until the early morning. But now Jimmy needed to take care of himself -- the Union Pacific railroad and the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office wanted to find him guilty of trespassing charges and kick him out of his makeshift home.
So Jimmy, along with his animal rights friends Edward Muzika and Mary Cummins, took a trip to the Los Angeles Superior Court courthouse in the city of San Fernando to fight back. It had been an interesting few days for Jimmy, whose story was featured in last Thursday's issue of L.A. Weekly, titled "Jimmy on the Edge of Town."
After the article came out, the L.A. County Sheriff's Department came by his tent for a quick visit and several new friends, who apparently read the piece, dropped in and offered him food and money.
"They offered me financial help and I refused," said Jimmy, taking a break from the courtroom. "I said they could give me cat food."
On Monday, the City Attorney's Office wasn't so charitable.
In the courtroom, a prosecutor named Apraham Atteukenian appeared now and then, suggesting to Jimmy and Muzika, who was acting as a kind of advisor to his friend, that the city had a slam dunk case.
Attenukenian refused to back down from his stance that Jimmy was trespassing on the private property of the Union Pacific railroad, even though Los Angeles City Councilman Greig Smith and longtime real estate assessor Cummins had independently concluded that Jimmy lives on county property -- a finding that would seem to hurt the City Attorney's case.
Despite Atteukenian's confidence, Jimmy, just like other times in court, wouldn't back down either. But as he waited several hours for his name to be called by Superior Court Judge David W. Stuart, Muzika started to get nervous.
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Muzika wasn't sure if Jimmy, a Palestinian immigrant with a seventh-grade education who was representing himself because a public defender had previously told him to plead guilty, could handle the subtle legal arguments of his case. Muzika decided to give the public defender's office another shot, and walked into the agency's office near the second-floor courtroom in which Jimmy sat.
Muzika, a middle-aged Northridge resident who also tends to feral cats, was given a name of a new public defender, Joseph McInnis. As Muzika was walking out of the office to find and feel out Jimmy's prospective lawyer, McInnis, a lanky, young man in a dark suit, walked in. Muzika introduced himself, and they sat down, talked, and then Jimmy was brought into the fold. Just before the court recessed for lunch, Jimmy was standing in front of the judge next to McInnis.
On the face of it, nothing extraordinary seemed to happen before the judge. Cummins, who was ready to testify for Jimmy, didn't take the stand, and the City Attorney's Office didn't drop the charges. McInnis then asked the judge for a delay so he could look deeper into the case, and Stuart granted the request, with another hearing scheduled for September 11. But this time around, Jimmy felt good when he left the courthouse -- he believed someone in the legal system was finally looking out for him.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.