“Tipping the Scales in Housing Court”

The night after I appeared in Housing Court, I read this terrific opinion piece in the Times by a guy named Matthew Desmond, an assist prof of sociology and social studies at Harvard, whose special concentration (and he’s writing a book on it) is urban poverty and eviction.

When you go to Housing Court, you live among what Professor Desmond is describing: poor people whose landlords are evicting them. The landlords themselves don’t show up; they send their lawyers. The poor people, though, usually have no lawyers. It is simply awful to see.

My lawyer and I have talked about the problem of being poor, with a civil court case, and the near-impossibility for poor people (law forms and courts often use the rather elegant and stigmatizing Latin expression, in pauperis) to find lawyers to represent them in civil matters. The various Legal Aid offices are hard-pressed to represent criminal defendants and usually have no resources to represent civil defendants. It’s heartbreaking and foolish.

Thanks to Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), indigent defendants in criminal cases have a right to be represented by a lawyer, as Prof. Desmond says, “on the grounds that a fair trial was virtually impossible without a lawyer.”

A subhead insert in this powerful piece reads Represent poor tenants, reduce evictions. Yes.

I intend to do fierce research into the problem of how people who can’t afford paying a lawyer can pursue a lawsuit. I have some information now, but not nearly enough. I’ll be gathering specific legal resources for people without money. That doesn’t mean I’ll come up with a lot but I will come up with something.

That doesn’t solve the problem. What will is governmental funds for Legal Aid offices and personnel specifically designated to represent poor people in civil cases.


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