The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 10

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PA High Court Takes Unprecendented
Action... Continued from page 9

BATDORF
LECTURE ON
EVICTIONS
The annual Batdorf Lecture, sponsored by the
Berks County Bar Association and hosted by Alvernia
University's O'Pake Institute for Ethics, Leadership &
Public Service, is set for March 21 beginning at 4:00 pm
in the McGlinn Conference Center.
The panel of Amy B. Good, Esquire, Edwin L.
Stock, Esquire, and Stacey J. Keppen, M.S.W. of the
Reading Housing Authority, with BCBA President Kurt
Althouse moderating, will address the topic of "Evictions
in Reading: Shocking Numbers, Terrible Consequences
and Meeting the Challenge." It promises to be a local spin
on the issues raised in Matthew Desmond's book Evicted:
Poverty and Profit in the American City. - DFS

cases reveal that there is an average of 3,044 such cases annually, in
a city, according to the 2010 Census, that has 19,875 rental housing
units. That means there is a potential annual eviction rate for 15% of
the units.
At my request, a paralegal intern observed landlord-tenant
hearings before MDJ Alvin B. Robinson over three days in
December. There were a total of 31 cases listed for hearing. Sixteen
tenants failed to show,3 five reached an agreement with the
landlord and the others faced eviction. None of the tenants had legal
representation.
Tenants Being Evicted Need Assistance of Counsel
To address the plague of evictions, Desmond makes several
recommendations that go beyond the scope of this article. But one
does not-a recommendation to establish publicly funded legal
services for low income families in housing court.
Desmond cites the unanimous decision in Gideon for the
proposition that indigent defendants in criminal cases are entitled
to counsel because "a fair trial [is] impossible without a lawyer."4
Cannot the same be said for defendants in civil cases?
However, the U.S. Supreme Court held otherwise in a 5-4
decision, Lassiter v. Department of Social Services, 452 U.S. 18 (1981).
Abby Gail Lassiter, a poor North Carolinian, appeared without
an attorney in a civil case that resulted in her parental rights being
terminated. The High Court held that civil defendants only had a
right to counsel when they risked losing their physical liberty.
Desmond's comment: "Incarceration is a misery, but the
outcomes of civil cases can also be devastating. Just ask Ms.
Lassiter."5
Having a lawyer has been proven to make a difference in
housing court. "For example, a program that ran from 2005 to 2008
in the South Bronx provided more than 1,300 families with legal
assistance and prevented eviction in 86 percent of cases. It cost
around $450,000, but saved New York City more than $700,000
in estimated shelter costs alone. The consequences of eviction are
many-and so are its burdens on the public purse." (Footnotes
omitted.)6
The concept of "Civil Gideon" being advocated7 in this country
"has been established around the world: not just in France and
Sweden but also in Azerbaijan, India, Zambia and many other
countries we like to think of as less progressive than our own."
(Footnote omitted.)8
A 52 percent no-show rate, such as reported by the intern, is not unusual. "Roughly 70
percent of tenants summoned to Milwaukee's eviction court didn't come. The same was
true in other major cities. In some urban courts, only 1 tenant in 10 showed. Some tenants
couldn't miss work or couldn't find child care or were confused by the whole process or couldn't
care less or would rather avoid the humiliation." (Footnotes omitted.) Desmond, p. 96.
4
Ibid., 303-304.
5
Ibid., 304.
6
Ibid., 304-305.
7
The Pennsylvania Bar Association is an advocate. In 2007, it adopted the following
Resolution: "RESOLVED, That the Pennsylvania Bar Association urges the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to provide legal services as a matter of right to low income
persons in those categories of adversarial proceedings where basic human needs are at stake,
such as those involving shelter, sustenance, safety, health or child custody."
8
Desmond, p. 305.
3

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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Berks Barrister Winter 2017

The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 1
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 2
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 3
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 4
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 5
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 6
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 7
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 8
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 9
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 10
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 11
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 12
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 13
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 14
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 15
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 16
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 17
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 18
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 19
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 20
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 21
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 22
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The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 28
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The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 39
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 40
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