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Examiner's "What's Working" Column Features Public Justice Center

Baltimore public interest law firm targets system to help individuals

By G. M. Corrigan
Examiner Correspondent 9/17/08

BALTIMORE – The legal services equivalent of triage in disaster recovery situations, the efforts and resources of Baltimore’s Public Justice Center are deployed in ways to accomplish the most good for the most people.

“The Public Justice Center is a nonprofit, public interest law firm that provides legal services to poor people,” PJC Executive Director John Nethercut said. “However ... our real focus is on what we call systemic impact cases — cases and projects that change the law or a practice for a whole class of people.”

John Nethercut, executive director of the Public Justice Center. Arianne Starnes/Examiner

In existence since 1985, the 16-employee, $1.4 million-a-year PJC plies its giant-taming mission in four ways: litigation, legislative advocacy, coalition building and public service education.

“We sue people; we litigate,” Nethercut said. “We also propose bills to legislators of interest to poor people and civil rights [stakeholders]; and we oppose bills that would restrict the interests of poor people.”

As for its coalition-building and public service education activities, PJC and its Rental Housing Coalition partners recently mobilized to help change a Baltimore City eviction law that now gives about 150,000 evictees a year 14 days’ notice of seizure and prohibits the curbside disposal of their property, Nethercut said.

The group then got landlords and City Hall to pay for an educational pamphlet on the law’s provisions.

“[The law] saved the city over $1 million a year in trash collection,” Nethercut said, “and communities are a lot cleaner, while the number of tenants being evicted onto the street has dropped by one-third over last year.”

“They always seem to know exactly what’s happening,” said Richard Doran of Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a PJC coalition partner. Doran added that PJC just screened a public service film about “the education rights that homeless children have ... and they did a great job.”

Doran was alluding to another PJC victory: the June settlement of a lawsuit against the Baltimore County Public School System for allegedly ignoring the enrollment rights of homeless students. The settlement, Nethercut said, resulted in the reinstatement of students temporarily removed from their school district.

Currently addressing, with coalition partners, the nationwide lack of legal assistance for the poor in basic civil case disputes, PJC also cites its efforts in favor of landlord anti-retaliation measures and work on tenant evictions during owner foreclosures as high priorities.

“The Public Justice Center has been really helpful in providing information about renters and landlords in terms of their rights and responsibilities,” said Rick Gwynallen, associate director of the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council. “We rely on them quite a bit.”

Fast Facts:
Public Justice Center
1 N. Charles St. #200
Baltimore, MD 21201
410-625-9409
publicjustice.org
 

 
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http://www.baltimoreexaminer.com/local/people/Baltimore_Public_interest_law_firm_targets_system_to_help_individuals.html
 
 
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