Litigating to Ensure Accountability in Philly's May Primary

Voting People
According to Pennsylvania state law, whenever a question related to a Home Rule Charter appears on a ballot, the President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas must appoint interim election overseers to serve in the place of the City Commissioners. This law has not been followed in Philadelphia for at least 15 years. This May, there will be such a question on the ballot, but the President Judge has failed to appoint replacements. So, we are representing the Committee of Seventy and several candidates for elected office in filing a lawsuit asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to direct the President Judge to follow the law. Philadelphia 3.0 is also a petitioner in this case and is represented by private counsel.  

If our lawsuit is successful and the law is followed, the City Commissioners will have to sit out not just the May primary but any future elections that involve Home Rule Charter questions. Since 2002, the enforcement of this law would have rendered the City Commissioners unable to perform their responsibilities in close to 75 percent of elections. As such, we and our partners in the Better Philadelphia Elections Coalition are also advocating for City Council and the Mayor to replace the commissioners structure with a  Department of Elections that is led by independent experts who are appointed and confirmed. 

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Fighting for Renters in Landlord-Tenant Court

Our client Gerrell Martin testifies
More than 24,000 Philadelphians were sued last year in Landlord-Tenant Court. While 81% of landlords had lawyers, most tenants--over 90%--did not. This disparity, repeated with similar figures each year, results in a dramatic power imbalance, leaving low-income families afraid of complaining about the poor conditions of their homes, lest they risk facing an eviction lawsuit in which they will likely have to fend for themselves. We are working to upend this power dynamic through advocacy and litigation. 

First,  we are representing people like Gerrell Martin, whose landlord tried to evict her and her family even though he violated city law. He did not obtain a rental license, he neglected to fix violations on the property like the lack of heat, and he failed to secure a certificate verifying the property was in good condition. We are suing her landlord's collection lawyer for making misleading claims in the eviction filings, in hopes that other collection lawyers will take notice and force their clients to obtain proper certifications, and make repairs, before they file evictions. Second, we are partnering with our clients to advocate for housing rights. On March 20, Gerrell Martin and one of our other clients, Yazmin Vazquez, testified before City Council as part of a hearing on the eviction crisis. In a city where thousands of people are living in housing that is making them sick and the eviction rate is four times higher than the foreclosure rate, we are calling on the City to fund additional lawyers for low-income tenants.

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Student with Disability Prevails, Supported by our Amicus Briefs

The US Supreme Court unanimously rejected the Tenth Circuit ruling that federal law was met if a school provided "merely more than 
de minimis" progress to a student with a disability. This resolved a split among the circuit courts with a new standard that is a significant win for children with disabilities. The Court faced the question of how to measure if a school has provided a Free Appropriate Public Education under the Individuals with Disabilities Act. The Court observed that educational goals must be "appropriately ambitious" in light of a child's circumstances, and "every child should have a chance to meet challenging objectives." The Public Interest Law Center filed an amicus brief in support of the student's request for the Supreme Court to take the case and again on the merits of the case. We are proud to have once again played a role in advancing the civil rights of students with disabilities.

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2017 Disabilities Employment Rights Clinics

Do you have a disability or health condition? Think you've faced discrimination at work? Need an accommodation at work or school?  Then attend a free clinic at Liberty Resources to learn about your rights. Staff attorney Lee Awbrey and law school students will be available to assist individuals with disabilities and people who support them. The first three clinics of 2017 will all be at Liberty Resources at 112 N. 8th St., Suite 600, from 1:30-4:30 p.m. They will be held on March 30, April 6 and April 13.

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Law Center to be Honored by The Notebook

The Notebook
The Philadelphia Public School Notebook will honor the Law Center, the Education Law Center, and O'Melveny & Myers LLP at its annual fundraiser, "Turning the Page for Change" on June 6, 2017, at the University for the Arts in Philadelphia. We and the other two organizations are being honored for our School Funding Lawsuit that we continue to pursue to secure a high-quality public education for all students, regardless of their ZIP code or the color of their skin. We are still waiting on a decision from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court about whether or not this case can go to trial. 

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Pro Bono Spotlight: Lindsay Breedlove

Lindsay Breedlove
Lindsay Breedlove is a senior associate in the Health Sciences Department and Commercial Litigation Practice Group of Pepper Hamilton LLP. Lindsay was integral in the formation and organization of #TakeActionPhilly's first convening of lawyers from across the city, which we helped organize. She had this to say about helping with #TakeActionPhilly: "I am honored and humbled to have played a part in the organizational efforts for the first #TakeActionPhilly program, which focused on immigrant and refugee policy. First they came for the immigrants, and more than 500 Philadelphia lawyers and community members gathered and responded with one, resounding voice: 'not today, not in our city.'"

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Thank you to the Samuel S. Fels Fund

We want to acknowledge the Samuel S. Fels Fund for renewing its funding of our work with a grant this spring. It is through supporters like the Fels Fund that we are able to  live our mission of using high-impact legal strategies to advance the civil, social, and economic rights of communities in the Philadelphia region facing discrimination, inequality, and poverty. If you would like to join the Fels Fund in supporting our efforts, please click the button below.
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