The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 9

7. Given the failure to adequately staff the office in view of
the caseload, meaningful consultations with clients were very
limited or nonexistent.
Justice Wecht, writing for the majority, quoted with approval
from the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Cronic,
466 U.S. 648, 659 (1984): "[I]f counsel entirely fails to subject the
prosecution's case to meaningful adversarial testing, then there
has been a denial of Sixth Amendment rights that makes the
adversary process itself presumptively unreliable..."
He further wrote, "The right to counsel is as important in
the initial stages of a criminal case as it is at trial." Therefore, the
"appointment of an attorney to represent an indigent defendant
cannot be relegated to a mere formality."
Noting "that Pennsylvania holds the dubious distinction of
being the only state in the nation that continues to rely exclusively
upon local, rather than state-wide, funding of public defender's
offices[,]" nevertheless, "compliance with Gideon should not-
cannot-depend upon the county in which a crime is alleged."
(Emphasis supplied.)
To its credit, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has now laid
down a state-wide ruling that gives each county's public defender
office a big stick-an injunction-to achieve the funding
required to fully protect criminally-charged indigent defendants
at each stage of the prosecution. Luzerne is simply the first county
to be recognized as needing the "stick." Who will be next, Adams?
Next Step-Counsel for Poor Tenants in Housing Court?
By its Kuren decision, the Court is boldly enforcing the
Gideon obligation to provide legal counsel to those facing the risk
of losing their liberty in lieu of legislative action in Harrisburg.
Now, how about applying that concept of "meaningful adversarial
testing" representation to assist those civil defendants facing the
risk of losing their housing who cannot afford an attorney? Is it
not time for a civil Gideon?
Last summer when I was laid up with an injury, I read
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, a bestselling
Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (New York: Crown
Publishers, 2016), p. 298. Hereinafter cited as Desmond.
2
Ibid., 299.
1

book by Matthew Desmond, now a Harvard professor. In May
2008, while a sociology graduate student, Desmond moved into a
Milwaukee trailer park and then six months later into a rundown
rooming house on the North side of the city.
It was all for research into the lives of poor tenants and
whether they were able to enjoy stable, decent housing. The
resulting book reads like a novel but is all true. His meticulous
research reveals tales of real anguish and includes poor people
having to pay 70 to 80 percent of their monthly income in
rent for trailers or apartments often unfit for habitation. Such
economics cannot be sustained, resulting in eviction.
In the book's epilogue Desmond writes: "Losing your
home and possessions and often your job; being stamped with
an eviction record and denied government housing assistance;
relocating to degrading housing in poor and dangerous
neighborhoods; and suffering from increased material hardship,
homelessness, depression, and illness-this is eviction's fallout.
Eviction does not simply drop poor families into a dark valley, a
trying yet relatively brief detour on life's journey. It fundamentally
redirects their way, casting them onto a different, and much
more difficult, path. Eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of
poverty."1
Children suffer the most. "[A]cross the country, many evicted
children end up homeless. The substandard housing and unsafe
neighborhoods to which many evicted families must relocate can
degrade a child's health, ability to learn, and sense of self-worth...
Parents...wanted to provide their children with stability, but
eviction ruined that, pulling kids in and out of school and batting
them from one neighborhood to the next." (Footnotes omitted.)2
The book sends a powerful message. Is Reading, PA any
different?
Evictions in Reading, PA
MDJ Victor M. Frederick IV, chair of BCBA's Minor
Judiciary Practice and Procedure Section, provided me with the
caseload statistics for the Reading magisterial districts for the
years 2013-2015. A review of the numbers for landlord-tenant
Continued on page 10

Winter 2017 | 9



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
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The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 40
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