As a first year associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP in 2010, Jonathan Porter was happy to dive right in and help with a pro bono eviction case that had been referred to his firm from Legal Aid and was headed for trial. Little did he know that he had signed onto a case that would span three years involving two trials and two appeals, and create important precedent -- clarifying the D.C. retaliation statute, which provides a rebuttable presumption of retaliation when a landlord brings suit to evict a tenant within six months after the tenant exercises her legal rights -- that has and will continue to benefit countless tenants in the District.
“After that case, I was hooked,” said Jonathan. “It was an incredible opportunity so early in my career. I was involved in negotiations and mediation, and gained courtroom and trial experience – opportunities that don’t often present themselves for junior associates. But those benefits were ancillary to the reward of achieving a favorable outcome for our client – to see the stress washed away for a single mother who had been worried about losing her home.”
Jonathan’s colleague, Elliot Weingarten, now a fourth-year associate at Simpson Thacher, also got involved in landlord and tenant pro bono work soon after he started at the firm. They each have worked on several eviction cases over the past few years, and they had the chance to work together on a case for their client, Crystal Taylor.
During DC Pro Bono Week, we are posting profiles of some of the amazing pro bono attorneys who partner with Legal Aid to make justice real for individuals and families living in poverty in our community. Want to get involved? Contact Jodi Feldman.
As Ms. Taylor knows, having a lawyer can make a big difference in leveling the playing field in Landlord–Tenant Court. Ms. Taylor’s landlord sued her for eviction alleging that she had violated certain terms of her lease. But her landlord promptly dismissed the suit after opposing counsel received a copy of the motion for summary judgment -- filed by Jonathan, Elliot, and their colleague, Adrienne Baxley -- arguing that the landlord had no evidence to support the allegations in the complaint.
“It was incredibly satisfying and a great result for Ms. Taylor to be able to resolve the case on summary judgment with no opposition from the landlord,” noted Elliot. “I worked [on] another case against the same landlord, almost identical facts, and secured another win for our client on summary judgment. Representing tenants in eviction cases has been an invaluable professional experience, and I have had the chance to make a real difference in my clients’ lives.”
“It is really a joy to do this work,” said Jonathan. “It’s the thank you emails and the thank you hugs that keep you coming back for more.”