Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

May 23

2016

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Legal Aid Hosts Housing Conditions Pro Bono Training

Last Wednesday, attorneys from seven law firms and government agencies participated in an informal training at Legal Aid on handling cases before the D.C. Superior Court’s Housing Conditions Calendar.  The training was led by Staff Attorney Evan Henley who joined Legal Aid in September 2013 as a Skadden Fellow.  Evan’s fellowship project focused on representing tenants in housing conditions cases and related advocacy.

The D.C. Superior Court created the Housing Conditions Calendar (HCC) in April 2010 after years-long advocacy led by Legal Aid and others.  The docket is dedicated solely to cases brought by tenants seeking repairs to their rental units.  Designed to complement to the Court’s Landlord and Tenant Branch, which handles eviction proceedings, the HCC provides a forum for the speedy, inexpensive resolution of cases involving landlords’ failure to maintain units in decent and sanitary condition as required by D.C. law.  Legal Aid and other advocates had been working closely with the Court to create this calendar. Read more →

May 19

2016

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Miller & Chevalier Hosts Graduation Party for Client

It isn’t every day that a law firm hosts a graduation party for their client, but that is exactly what Miller & Chevalier did for Marie Walker* — a single mother with four young children who works as an aid in a nursing home.

Last year, Legal Aid reached out to Miller & Chevalier requesting help with a new pro bono project to protect persons like Ms. Walker from abusive transfers of their rights to structured settlement annuity payments in exchange for immediate cash.  Personal injury settlements are sometimes structured so that the injured party will receive monthly or periodic lump-sum payments over time.  Often enticed by television advertising or direct solicitations, low-income persons holding such annuities may seek to transfer rights to all or part of the annuity in return for immediate cash. Read more →

May 18

2016

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Late Fee Fairness Act Provides Necessary Reforms

On Monday, I testified before the D.C. Council’s Committee on Housing and Community Development in favor of the Late Fee Fairness Amendment Act of 2016 (“Late Fee Fairness Act”).  This bill would provide critical protections to District tenants and addresses many inequities that Legal Aid’s clients currently face.

Just recently Legal Aid represented a tenant who had been sued for nonpayment of rent who would have benefited greatly from the Late Fee Fairness Act. This tenant had tried to pay her monthly rent, in full and on time, but the landlord refused her rent because the landlord alleged she owed some late fees for a couple months that were paid late more than a year before. Eventually, the landlord accepted her rent but still sued her for eviction. The landlord said she was behind on her rent because the landlord credited her rent payment to the old alleged late fee balances instead of to her rent. Read more →

May 11

2016

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The Profound Impact of Debt Collection Lawsuits on Low-Income Americans

For the past few years, ProPublica has performed extensive research about how state court systems are used to collect consumer debts across the country.  Paul Kiel’s latest story, “So Sue Them: What We’ve Learned About the Debt Collection Lawsuit Machine,” provides a concise account of the devastating and profound effects that debt collection lawsuits have on millions of Americans.

The multi-year study found that debt buyers filed more collection cases than any other type of plaintiff in most courts across the country.  Debt buyers purchase distressed debt, such as defaulted credit card accounts, for pennies on the dollar.  An illustrative example of the growth of the debt buying industry and its use of the court system can be found in New Jersey, where the number of court judgments obtained by debt buyers went from a mere 500 in 1996 to 140,000 in 2008. Read more →

May 11

2016

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Legal Aid Helps Those Facing Sky-High Prescription Drug Prices

Last week, the Washington Post ran an alarming article, the title of which announced, “Cutting pills in half may save you a bunch in prescription drug costs.”  As a public benefits attorney, I was troubled to see this discussion of the “benefits” of pill-splitting without any mention of one of the biggest culprits of high drug costs for people in Medicare: having the wrong insurance coverage.  For the thousands of Washingtonians who have prescription drug coverage through Medicare Part D, being in the wrong plan can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs.

As we’ve previously blogged about, each year the private prescription drug plans that offer coverage under Part D change.  Legal Aid and Whitman-Walker Health coordinate an annual series of clinics where we are able to help scores of people like “Rita,” an 86 year-old woman with severe visual impairment.  Rita would have faced $7,900 a year in drug costs if we had not changed her plan.  Cutting pills in half may be the only option for some, but we hope low-income Medicare recipients will first consider consulting an expert to make sure they are in the right plan before they resort to the pill splitter.