In Fall 2022, UDC Law launched a new partnership with Rising for Justice to offer students the Housing Advocacy and Litigation Clinic focused on eviction defense. This semester, the eight UDC Law student attorneys participating in the Clinic have been keeping their clients housed and enforcing their tenant rights. The students cover a week in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of the courthouse where they interview and provide same-day legal advice at the courthouse and through community outreach events at affordable housing complexes. Students also represent tenants in hearings.
Clinic Director Paul DiBlasi says, “The student attorneys participating in the clinic have already had an immense impact on their clients’ lives.” They have been able to convince the court to stop numerous evictions. Clinic students Hedda Garland and Asia Hartgrove have joined other student attorneys to provide representation to tenants facing mass eviction filings from their landlord right before ownership of the building transfers to the tenants. In the District, this is called “quashing the writ of restitution.” Hartgrove prevented an eviction by convincing the court to quash the writ of restitution set to displace a client she met in her first week of clinic. She went on to persuade the court to vacate the default judgment entered against her client after her client had missed a hearing. Garland has prevented two evictions by persuading the court to quash the writ of restitution. In one case, she used a direct examination of her client to convince the court to quash the writ of restitution and stop the eviction.
Student attorneys have also impacted their clients’ lives by using negotiation to advance their clients’ goals. For example, Marianne Fichtel prevented an eviction by persuading opposing counsel to stop the eviction, and Brittany Harding negotiated a settlement agreement providing her client far more time to move out of their home than they would have had if the client had continued to litigate the case.
Evening students Sean Chao and Karla Hammonds are also enrolled in the Housing Advocacy and Litigation Clinic for 10 credit hours. Hammonds enrolled in the clinic as an elective, having already met her mandatory clinic graduation requirement.
Clinic students Robert Ward and Jose Jean-Baptiste have represented tenants facing eviction and other legal issues in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of District of Columbia Superior Court, including investigating on clients’ behalf and working to achieve their desired outcomes. Ward said, “UDC Law’s emphasis on clinical work as part of my legal studies allows me to gain meaningful experience with clients and representing them in court that will better prepare me for a legal career.”
Ward and Jean-Baptiste also attended the Rising for Justice Annual Award Reception along with Dean Twinette Johnson and Clinical Program Managing Attorney Tiffanny Smith. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was the keynote speaker. “Attending Rising for Justice’s Celebration of Service allowed me to connect with multiple attorneys with varying levels of experience who focus on public interest law,” Ward said, adding, “I’m honored to have met [Holder]. His message to urgently advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable people aligns with my goal to work in indigent criminal defense after graduating from UDC Law in May 2023.”