Pianka’s Peers

While Judge Raymond Pianka’s methods are unusual, he is not alone in exploring these sorts of remedies. Pianka often appears at national conferences with judges Larry Potter of Memphis and Henry Nowak of Buffalo.

Judge Larry Potter presides over the Environmental Court of Memphis and Shelby County, Tenn.. Environmental courts established by state legislation have jurisdiction over local housing, health, and safety code enforcement. Judge Potter is a nationally recognized advocate for giving environmental courts injunctive powers to order compliance.

Like Pianka, Potter uses punishment to motivate compliance by absentee and commercial owners. Judge Potter also issues daily fines to “no shows” and fines those who refuse to follow court orders.

In October 2010, Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton Jr. launched an aggressive litigation campaign with specially hired private attorneys to file hundreds of nuisance abatement cases under a state Neighborhood Preservation Act. Once cases are brought, the act enables Judge Potter to issue court orders to compel nuisance abatement. Memphis not only gets blight cleared, but it also recovers litigation and abatement costs.

In Buffalo, N.Y., Municipal Judge Henry Nowak was assigned the housing docket for eight years. He is credited with transforming the court’s code enforcement, using every legal tool available. Noting that Chapter 516 of New York’s 1978 statutes gave broad authority to his court to fashion remedies in housing cases, Nowak quickly developed a reputation for innovative and powerful procedures aimed at protecting neighborhoods from abandoned houses.

Prosecutors in Buffalo got help from Nowak to bring absentee and institutional owners into court after they ignored summonses. Failure to comply with court orders resulted in maximum fines and, in several notorious cases, jail time for non-compliant speculators.

Kermit Lind is a clinical law professor (retired) at Cleveland State University’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. He is currently working with Judge Pianka in the Cleveland Housing Court.


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