Legal Aid is pleased to announce the arrival of a new Skadden Fellow, Ashley Waddell Tingstad. Ashley is joining the Consumer Law Unit where she will provide legal representation and outreach to DC’s low-income community in debt collection and other consumer law cases. In addition, Ashley will advocate for systemic reform, with a particular focus on DC’s Small Claims Court, where debt collection cases make up an overwhelming percentage of the docket. As part of her project, Ashley will collaborate with community legal services providers to implement and staff the Consumer Law Court-Based Legal Services Project. The Project will place legal services attorneys at the courthouse to provide same-day representation to pro se litigants in debt collection cases.
Regardless of merit, debt collection cases often result in default judgments or settlements that can have a devastating impact on people living in poverty. A number of prominent legal commentators, as well as the Federal Trade Commission, have called our current system for adjudicating debt collection cases broken. The system regularly deprives defendants of the opportunity to raise meritorious defenses. Many people are not even aware that a collection case has been filed against them until after a default judgment is entered and their wages are garnished or money is taken from their bank accounts. Defendants who do receive notice of suit often do not realize that viable legal defenses exist to protect them. Without access to legal services, these defendants are at risk of unwittingly waiving such defenses during the course of court proceedings or at mediation. Ashley’s fellowship will help to fill a largely unmet legal need by providing critical access to legal services in consumer debt collection cases.
As a fluent Spanish speaker with a history of serving the Hispanic community, Ashley’s project will have a particular focus on meeting the legal needs of low-income Spanish-speaking clients.