Seniors fight back against a corporate landlord seeking to collect rent for dangerous, unlicensed housing

Brith Sholom House 
Brith Sholom House. Source: Google street view
Brith Sholom House is home to 283 senior citizens, most of whom live on fixed incomes. For over a decade the building has lacked an updated fire suppression system that complies with the Philadelphia Code. The building's corporate owners, Brith Sholom Winit L.P., do not have a rental license due to outstanding code violations. Under City law, they cannot legally collect rent. Despite this, they have continued to demand, every month, that their tenants pay rent they do not owe--even after a fire on January 4 demonstrated the urgent need for a new safety system. Some tenants, asserting their legal rights and using the strongest tool they have to demand much-needed repairs, have refused.

In a motion filed on February 7, the owners requested that the Court grant them a rental license and force these tenants to pay-without providing any further assurances that legally required safety upgrades will be made.  Residents are fighting back. We, along with pro bono co-counsel from Dechert LLP, are representing Diana Dukes and Samuel Wolfolk, two Brith Sholom tenants, in a petition to intervene on filed February 20, seeking to oppose their landlord's motion and enforce their right to safe housing. 
"I decided to stand up on behalf of myself and others to let our landlord know that we will not sit idly by and be treated with such callous disregard," said Ms. Dukes. "We demand that they fulfill their legal obligation to supply us seniors with a safe, clean, and well-maintained place to live. We deserve this!"
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Parents in Chester Upland School District are standing up against plans to convert all K-8 schools into charters

Chester Upland parents and teachers rally in Harrisburg
Chester Upland parents and teachers rally in Harrisburg
We are representing four mothers of students in Chester Upland School District who are working to make sure that children in the district will not be forced to go to lower-performing charter schools. On January 31, Jazmine Campos, Latoya Jones, Tiffany Raymond and Precious Scott filed a petition to intervene in Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, seeking to participate in the evaluation of a plan to covert the remaining K-8 schools in the district into charters. Delaware County Advocacy & Resource Organization, a membership-based organization that advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and provides educational advocacy for Chester Upland parents of students with disabilities, also joined the petition. W e are joined by co-counsel from the Education Law Center-PA. 
Chester Upland's Financial Recovery Plan, released in December 2019, recommends that the District investigate whether they could save costs by converting its remaining elementary schools to charters. Our petitioners argue that the plan should more fully consider the academic quality of these potential new charter schools--especially because existing schools operated by Chester Community Charter have worse academic scores than those operated by the district. We also argue that any plan must consider whether students with disabilities will continue to be able to receive a free appropriate public education in new charter schools. On February 24, Judge Barry Dozer granted our petition to intervene. During a hearing to evaluate the Financial Recovery Plan on March 3 and March 4, we will make the case that our clients' academic concerns must be addressed before moving forward with any charter conversion plan.   
"We are deciding the future of education in Chester Upland School District, and we must take full consideration of the quality of that education for all students, not just the cost," said our attorney Darlene Hemerka. You can read more about our petition in this February 7 article in the Delaware County Daily Times, written before our request to enter the case was accepted.
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Attention public education advocates: Join us March 17 for a free school funding briefing at La Colombe in Fishtown

A student filling in a worksheet

Fourth Graders from William Penn School District

Empty desks

Join us at La Colombe in Fishtown for a free school funding briefing, and a chance to meet education advocate Todd Carmichael, La Colombe's CEO and co-founder.

Pennsylvania has one of the largest funding gaps in the country between low-wealth and high-wealth school districts. Our state ranks 44th in the share of school funding that comes from the state. Right now, we are representing six school districts across the state in a lawsuit that takes on this inequitable and inadequate school funding system
At the briefing, you will learn the basics of education funding and how it works in Pennsylvania, as well as ways you can get involved in advocacy for fully funded public education. Hear the latest on updates on our groundbreaking case against state legislative leaders--tentatively scheduled for trial this fall--and what to expect moving forward.
When: Tuesday, March 17, 5:30-7:00 p.m.
Where : La Colombe Coffee Roasters, 1335 Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19125 
Cost : Free
Register here 
Presented by La Colombe Coffee Roasters

La Colombe Coffee Roasters 
Announcing the Jeffrey Golan & Frances Vilella-Vélez Voting Justice Project

The Jeffrey Golan _ Frances Vilella-Velez Voting Rights Project
We are excited to announce a new project to support our work fighting for a more inclusive democracy.  Through the Jeffrey Golan & Frances Vilella-Vélez Voting Justice Project, we protect every citizen's right to vote by modernizing Pennsylvania's election system and challenging discriminatory barriers to the ballot box. Read more about the work supported through this project here.
This project supports our work taking on prison gerrymandering.  Legislative districts across Pennsylvania get an unfair population boost when our state's 47,000 inmates-most of whom cannot vote while incarcerated-are counted as residents of their cells, rather than their hometowns. This practice, which skews political representation towards districts where prisons are located, is known as prison gerrymandering, and we are working to end this practice in Pennsylvania. Learn more about our work here.

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Law Center in the News: What you need to know about our school funding lawsuit

Students protest for fair school funding outside Philadelphia City Hall
On February 18, our staff attorney Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg spoke at a meeting of the Lancaster school board, providing an update on our school funding lawsuit. Lancaster is one of six school districts we were representing in our lawsuit, filed with the Education Law Center-PA, to take on Pennsylvania's inequitable and inadequate state school funding system.

Lancaster Online published a summary of the presentation, and the article gives a concise overview of the facts of the case. "What we need [after we win the case] is for the legislature to feel actual pressure...from public opinion," said Mr. Urevick-Ackelsberg.
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Board member profile: Molly Flynn, Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP

Molly Flynn
Molly Flynn
Our dedicated board is essential to our success as an organization. Molly Flynn, a partner and mass tort litigator with Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, has been a member of our board of directors for three years, and first helped the Law Center in a pro bono case ten years ago. 
What do you enjoy most about your work?  I love learning the individual facts of a case and deposing witnesses. People are so interesting. 
If you could do something besides practice law, what would that be? I would return to my roots in the arts community. I attended Tyler School of Art for undergrad and long to make stuff with my hands again. 
When you have time away from the office, where are we most likely to find you?  Hiking the local trails and camping. My family loves exploring our state and national parks - they are such a treasure and place to relax.