Free Attorneys Suggested For NYC Housing Court

With nearly 30,000 families evicted from their homes in 2013, the nation’s largest city is considering providing free lawyers for resident who can’t afford legal representation. PIX11 TV is reporting that New York City Council members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson are pushing for the law with Levine arguing that “.. only 10 percent of tenants who head to housing court have attorneys.”

Residential evictions have become a key issue, along with family law and other “social good” classifications, for advocates of what’s called the “civil Gideon” movement, named after the landmark case that guaranteed representation in criminal cases.

Magazine Details Legal-Access Fee Challenges

THE WEEKEND READ: Legal access for civil issues, like foreclosure or family law issues, is gaining traction as a national issue, and The Atlantic has published “Is There Such a Thing as an Affordable Lawyer,” a detailed look at the fee-system problem. The report notes that a recent law review article said that “… the typical legal services consumer in the U.S. makes approximately $25 per hour, and is priced out of the services lawyers provide even at low attorney rates of $125-$150 an hour.” The the report contrasts those rates as being “… well below the standard rates shown in the 2013 Laffey Matrix—a set of fee guidelines compiled within the U.S. Department of Justice—which start at $245 for a greenhorn associate.”

It’s not exactly light reading, but the story uses both specific stories and academic theories to illustrate why the market is slow in responding to consumer needs. Then it also offers examples of change that might lower the cost of legal representation. A must-read for anyone worried about civil justice rationing: Is There Such a Thing as an Affordable Lawyer.


Courthouses Said ‘Sensitive’ In Immigration

Immigration officials have long avoided active enforcement in areas deemed “sensitive,” like places of worship, public demonstrations or medical facilities. Now advocates want to add the courthouse to that list as enforcement is being taken against people showing up for routine civil functions like paying parking tickets or vital activities, like getting a domestic restraining order.
According to a report in the New York Times, “… advocates argue that the use of courthouses by immigration officials deters undocumented immigrants from exercising their constitutional rights of due process; petitioning for redress of grievances, such as wage claims against employers; and satisfying their civic duties, such as paying traffic tickets. Joanne Lin, a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, said she had heard about dozens of cases since the beginning of 2013 in which immigrants have been interrogated or detained at courthouses, including while trying to attend hearings, get married or obtain a domestic violence restraining order.

NYT Shines Light On Civil Detainee Labor

The New York Times has published a detailed report on how civil immigration detainees are being used for cheap or free labor in the facilities where they are being held, benefiting not only government agencies but for-profit companies that operate in the facilities. California is one of the states with multiple detention centers, and the report notes that “… near San Francisco, at the Contra Costa West County Detention Facility, immigrants work alongside criminal inmates to cook about 900 meals a day that are packaged and trucked to a county homeless shelter and nearby jails.”

The NYT notes that the federal government has become the largest employer of potentially illegal immigrants: “Last year, at least 60,000 immigrants worked in the federal government’s nationwide patchwork of detention centers — more than worked for any other single employer in the country, according to data from United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. The cheap labor, 13 cents an hour, saves the government and the private companies $40 million or more a year by allowing them to avoid paying outside contractors the $7.25 federal minimum wage. Some immigrants held at county jails work for free, or are paid with sodas or candy bars, while also providing services like meal preparation for other government institutions.”

The report includes the government response of “… the federal authorities say the program is voluntary, legal and a cost-saver for taxpayers. But immigrant advocates question whether it is truly voluntary or lawful, and argue that the government and the private prison companies that run many of the detention centers are bending the rules to convert a captive population into a self-contained labor force.”

This is the kind of story that might illustrate the difference in rights people have in criminal vs. civil cases – it is hard to imagine people being held in de facto labor camps if they faced criminal charges, because a different set of rights kicks in. Read the NYT game-changing story here: Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor

Vets Already A ‘Political Football’

How odd is it that a national Veterans Administration scandal is unfolding just as the nation observes Memorial Day? Reports of false documentation, delayed treatment and even deaths brought an address from President Obama last week, including his promise that anyone responsible will be “punished.” The president also expressed the hope that the scandal does not become “another political football.”

AP photo as part of the Journal Sentinel report on 3/24/14.

AP photo as part of the Journal Sentinel report on 3/24/14.

But of course, it will and we should note that in the world of asbestos damage claims, veterans have always been part of the debate. Because the military used so much asbestos decades ago, many vets are getting mesothelioma today. The most recent high-profile example of how that plays out came as Wisconsin passed reforms on asbestos-focused bankruptcy trusts.

Victims’ attorneys argued that increased transparency was unfair to veterans and would make gaining compensation more difficult. And several veterans groups lobbied against the measure. But the AMVETS group countered that bogus claims could deplete the trusts and thus reduce payouts. The “tort reform” advocates say that opposing vets eventually dropped their opposition, but that was only after the governor assured them he was going to sign the legislation, according to the Journal Sentinel newspaper.

You can follow the vets-as-political-football here.