Big Wins and New Hires at the Legal Aid Bureau

BY BENJAMIN SAUTER

Monee Takla and Kristin Small Win Over $37,000 for Client

After months of negotiations and trial preparation, Monee Takla ’08 and Kristin Small ’08 last week finalized a settlement agreement awarding approximately $37,000 in cash and future rent to their client, the mother of two children and caretaker of a granddaughter.

When Takla and Small took the case, their client lived on the first floor in a converted two-family house. The apartment was rife with housing code violations, including lead paint, an illegal basement, a missing window, and structural wall damage. The utilities meters had been rigged by the landlord so that the client paid utility bills for the entire building. Appallingly, the landlord lived just across the yard and could see the conditions every morning from his bedroom window.

Because the landlord seemed willing to continue ignoring his tenants’ plight, the client finally began withholding monthly rent last July to get his attention. Rather than repairing the conditions, however, the landlord attempted to evict the client. Upon receiving notice of the eviction, the client called the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, where the case quickly caught Takla and Small’s attention. “From a human standpoint,” they recalled, “this was an appalling case. But it was a great case to litigate. All the elements were there: housing code violations, the landlord’s awareness, and a client who was willing to stand up for her right to live in decent housing.”

On the day of the jury trial, but before the jury convened, the judge made a final plea to opposing counsel: “I advise you to settle this matter, because you risk significant liability.” Upon the judge’s “recommendation,” the landlord agreed to a final round of negotiations.

The negotiations began auspiciously for Takla and Small, with opposing counsel making the first concession: “All right, you win; you have prepared a perfect case.” By the end of the second day, Takla and Small, along with their instructor Elizabeth Nessen, had secured for their client $13,000 in cash and $10,000 in future free rent. The client will no longer pay any electricity for her apartment, will receive free heat this winter, and the landlord will refund over $2,000 for past utility bills. Finally, all housing code violations in the apartment will be promptly repaired.

Takla and Small’s case is among the several in each 3L’s caseload and the dozens of housing cases that are currently being litigated by the student attorneys at the Bureau.

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Kia Holfield Wins $30,000 in Unpaid Child Support for Client

Kia Holfield 08′ recently won $30,000 for her client, a mother of four children and guardian of two others, who had already filed bankruptcy twice and was in danger of losing her home due to over ten years of unpaid child support.

Moments before her client’s annual child support review hearing, Holfield discovered that her client’s former spouse potentially had inherited his mother’s house yet still remained over 10 years behind in child support payments. Holfield disclosed the potential new asset – along with the fact that the former spouse had been unemployed for over two years – to a judge in the Middlesex Probate Court, who immediately arrested the former spouse and instructed Holfield to investigate the legal ownership of the house in Suffolk Probate Court.

Holfield quickly discovered that the former spouse had indeed inherited the house, and that it was appraised at over $225,000. Holfield returned to Middlesex Probate Court with proof of the inheritance, and Judge Kagan ordered the former spouse to enroll immediately in a job search program and gave him 45 days to pay all child support arrears. If the former spouse does not comply with the order, he faces criminal contempt charges, and his house will be auctioned by a Special Master and its proceeds used to satisfy past and future child support obligations.

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