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Shelter Court Judge Ingrid Uhler listens to a defendant at the Salvation Army in Redlands on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023. The San Bernardino County Probation Department and Superior Court teamed up on Shelter Court, where homeless people who are reluctant to seek services because they have an outstanding misdemeanor case or ticket can get those issues resolved. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
Shelter Court Judge Ingrid Uhler listens to a defendant at the Salvation Army in Redlands on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023. The San Bernardino County Probation Department and Superior Court teamed up on Shelter Court, where homeless people who are reluctant to seek services because they have an outstanding misdemeanor case or ticket can get those issues resolved. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
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When Dieter Wheatly appeared in court on Wednesday facing outstanding fines and misdemeanor charges, he wasn’t afraid. In fact, he was hopeful.

The 55-year-old Wheatly had been homeless since 2017, but shared with the judge that since he was last in court he had found a part-time job. He also had not had a new case on his record since 2022.

Judge Ingrid Uhler, who works at courthouses in Victorville and Fontana, deemed his efforts to change his situation merited a clearance of outstanding fines and closed his outstanding misdemeanor charges.

Now, with a clear record, Wheatly hopes to receive his driver’s license and take additional steps to find housing.

That’s the purpose of Shelter Court.

The San Bernardino County Probation Department and the Superior Court partner to host Shelter Court, which had an event at the Redlands Salvation Army on Wednesday, Dec. 13. The goal? To clear misdemeanors, tickets and fines from the records of homeless people.

“Due to things like transportation or even fear, a lot of homeless are scared or unable to come to court for their cases and retain outstanding charges or are fined,” Officer Oleg Llaurado, a San Bernardino County Probation Department officer, said. “This can prevent them from getting help, so we decided to bring the court to them.”

In 2023, hundreds of cases were cleared off of people’s records in Shelter Court. Most of the typical cases resolved involve public intoxication, trespassing, loitering and drug use, said Uhler.

At Wednesday’s Shelter Court, a row of booths filled out the community center with resources such as Narcan in case of a fentanyl overdose and homeless outreach regarding health services and jobs. Panera Bread lunches were provided, along with heaters, blankets and other resources for those who are homeless.

Judge Uhler spearheads the court, which regularly travels to city centers in San Bernardino, Rialto, Victorville and Rancho Cucamonga.

Once entering the courtroom, which was built around a Salvation Army church altar, the proceedings usually took 5 minutes. The judge checked on the defendant, informing them of programs available, and provided advice.

A conflict panel, which includes a public defender and a prosecutor, accompanied Judge Uhler, and each one reviewed a list of the charges. The judge worked down the list, dismissing charges based on time passed and waiving fees due to either time served in jail or community service time.

If a defendant has an outstanding felony warrant or a no-bail charge, they are taken into custody.

Some of the defendants had scheduled hearings at the court, but walk-ins were also allowed.

San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department officers went to homeless encampments and offered rides to the court. Five people were transported, Llaurado said.

Their charges were pulled up as the conflict panel and prosecutor negotiated the proper steps the defendants would have to take to clear the charges. Once agreed, the judge made the final decision.

Lance Valdez, 51, has been homeless in San Bernardino since his mother died in 2013. He was left with no address to receive mail and couldn’t get a job. He sleeps at a nearby park.

At Shelter Court Wednesday, Valdez had an outstanding fine of $200 for unlawful entry dismissed. Next he hopes to get his license and Social Security card. He also said he got the contact information from one of the booths in the community center so he could find a job and, eventually, somewhere to live.

During the proceedings, Judge Uhler told Valdez, “I saved you $200, but I wish I could do more for you, but one step at a time.”

“We really try to communicate to people that the Shelter Court is just trying to help people clear their record, not arrest people. We just want to provide resources and try to let them know we are here to help. You can lead a horse to water, but you know,” Llaurado said.

Judge Uhler would often end each case with a piece of advice, motivation, or a reminder that there are people who care about them.

Devita Liest, 42, had seven pending cases of drug use and possession, along with public intoxication. She currently lives on the street, but she hopes that changes soon.

At the event, Judge Uhler dismissed all seven cases after Liest stated she was four months sober. Liest had her children removed from her custody when they were around the ages of 9-12. She recently came in contact with her children, who are both now heading to college after growing up with foster parents.

“You are proud of them and they will be proud of you if you keeping putting in the work,” Judge Uhler told Liest. “You will become more and more a part of their life.”

 

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