Less than a month ago, we were desperately seeking pro bono counsel to represent Ms. M -- a single mother with three young children and another on the way, who was embroiled in a lawsuit with a court date just after the New Year. Fortunately, despite the holiday slowdown, Crowell & Moring associate Dina Epstein stepped up.
Ms. M had come to Legal Aid for help because her landlord refused to return to her nearly $1,000 that she was owed in overpaid rent. Ms. M receives a housing subsidy that pays a portion of her rent directly to her landlord. The subsidy amount is determined by her income. When her unemployment benefits were terminated in the spring of 2013, Ms. M promptly reported her reduced income to the DC Housing Authority. Two months later, the Housing Authority retroactively increased Ms. M’s subsidy, consistent with her decrease in income, and paid Ms. M’s landlord the difference between the prior subsidy amount and the new subsidy amount for those two months. Meanwhile, Ms. M already had paid her landlord the difference between the subsidy amounts for those same two months.
Despite her best efforts to secure a refund from her landlord, several months had passed and all Ms. M had gotten was the runaround. Her landlord acknowledged that she was owed the overpaid rent, but would not pay her back the money she was owed. Ms. M grew so frustrated that she finally filed a lawsuit against her landlord and came to Legal Aid seeking representation.
Less than two weeks after Ms. M first met with Ms. Epstein, Ms. M had a check in hand for the full amount in question -- a wonderful start to the New Year for both of them! And a reminder to us all that having a lawyer on your side can make a big difference.
Ms. M’s story is just one of many examples over the past year where pro bono counsel helped make justice real for individuals and families living in poverty in the District. In 2013, hundreds of lawyers across the city volunteered to represent clients who came to Legal Aid for help, resulting in a 20 percent increase in the number of cases we referred to pro bono counsel.
Will 2014 be the year that you step up and help make justice real? For more information about how to get involved, please visit the Pro Bono page on our newly-revamped website.