As regular readers know, making justice real for those living in poverty is what we are all about here at Legal Aid. However, even when our clients win in court, the victory can be hollow if they are unable to collect on a judgment. But, thanks to the perseverance of some dedicated lawyers at McKenna Long & Aldridge, several of our clients not only prevailed in litigation, but also have been made whole by receiving the money awarded to them.
Three recent examples illustrate what we mean. In the first, McKenna Long partner Cass Christenson and associate Craig Rust, were able to negotiate a payment agreement for a mother who first came to Legal Aid for help in 2006. The client’s landlord had sued her for eviction alleging nonpayment of rent. She asserted several defenses, as well as a counterclaim against the landlord for violations of the DC Housing Code. The landlord’s nonpayment claim was dismissed when the client became current in her rent. The trial judge then dismissed the client’s counterclaim.
Legal Aid appealed the trial court’s dismissal of the counterclaim. We won in the D.C. Court of Appeals, establishing that a tenant’s counterclaim in a nonpayment of rent case can survive dismissal of the landlord’s claim for nonpayment. The case was remanded, and Legal Aid again represented the client at trial in 2010. Two more years passed until the trial court finally issued a decision, finding in favor of Legal Aid’s client and awarding her $5,000.
But, even after all of that, the landlord refused to pay. Finally, at the end of 2013 – after the client had waited seven long years– the McKenna Long team successfully negotiated a payment plan with the client’s former landlord. The client now is receiving monthly payments toward the judgment.
In a second case, Legal Aid’s client had been living without electricity and water in his apartment for several months when he first came to us for help. The utilities had been shut off because the landlord had stopped paying the bills. In addition, the landlord had failed to address several other housing code violations present in the apartment. The client began withholding rent, and the landlord filed suit for eviction.
Legal Aid attorneys helped the client secure an immediate order restoring the utilities. They also argued that the client should not have been paying market rent given the conditions in the apartment. The client prevailed at trial. The Judge ordered the landlord to make repairs and awarded the client $6,300, representing an abatement of the rent he had paid over the prior three years. The landlord, however, failed to satisfy the monetary judgment.
McKenna Long senior counsel Dan Carrigan and associate Craig Rust successfully represented the client in a judgment enforcement action against the landlord. After extensive investigation and motions practice, the McKenna Long team secured an order sanctioning the landlord for fraud upon the court and allowing the tenant to live at the landlord’s property and garnish his rent against the judgment amount until the judgment is fully satisfied.
Cass Christenson and Craig Rust also assisted in the resolution of a third matter for the estate of a Legal Aid client who unfortunately passed away while his case was pending. The client had filed a tenant petition with the D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) arguing that his landlord had demanded an unlawful rent amount. OAH issued a final order finding that the tenant was entitled to payment of over $7,500 from the landlord.
The landlord did not appeal the order, but also didn’t make any payment in satisfaction of the judgment. Instead, the landlord filed an eviction case in the D.C. Superior Court against Legal Aid’s client alleging nonpayment of rent while the OAH case was still pending. After the client passed away, the client’s relative attempted to navigate his way through a probate action and be appointed as personal representative.
After several months had passed and the client’s relative had yet to secure status as personal representative, the court granted unopposed judgment to the landlord. Prior to his passing, the client already had paid over $10,000 into the court registry. These funds were released to the landlord. Meanwhile, the landlord still hadn’t satisfied the judgment awarded Legal Aid’s client in the OAH proceeding.
That’s when McKenna Long got involved. Cass and Craig filed a motion for entry of judgment that allowed them to promptly negotiate a settlement agreement with the landlord, achieving justice for the client’s estate and his family.
Without representation in these collections cases, the underlying legal victories would continue to ring hollow. It’s not the most glamorous of pro bono work, but for these clients and their families, the McKenna Long lawyers finally made justice real.