On Tuesday morning, a dozen lawyers and law students from across the city gathered at the Judiciary Square for a court tour led by Legal Aid Supervising Attorney Beth Mellen Harrison. Legal Aid and Neighborhood Legal Services Program co-sponsored the DC Pro Bono Week event: The Housing Crisis from the Inside: A Guided Tour of D.C. Superior Court’s Landlord and Tenant Branch.
The goal of the tour was to raise awareness about the crisis in affordable, safe housing in the District and provide insight into the experience of low-income tenants who have to defend themselves in eviction cases in this fast-paced, high-volume court.
Tour attendees listened to the morning announcement which involved a lengthy overview of critical information that the tenants needed to know to effectively participate in the court process. This was followed by roll call where the nearly 100 eviction cases that were set for an initial hearing that day were called by the court clerk, many of which promptly resulted in defaults being entered against tenants who were not present.
With this background, Beth then led a critical discussion with the group about the practical workings of the court, barriers to broader access to representation, and inherent challenges for low-income tenants who lack access to counsel.
One of the tour participants, Kathryn M. Sneade, Counsel at Miller & Chevalier Chartered, said she regularly volunteers at the Landlord and Tenant Resource Center managed by the DC Bar Pro Bono Center, but she had never actually entered the landlord and tenant courtroom. “I’m so glad I registered for the tour,” said Kathryn. “It was extremely valuable to see what the courtroom experience is like for the parties in these cases and to hear the observations and experiences shared by the Legal Aid staff. Armed with this knowledge, I feel more prepared than ever to help those in need navigate their housing issues.”
Beth concluded the tour by answering questions and providing information about how attendees can get involved by providing pro bono representation to help low-income individuals and families assert their rights and remain in their homes.