With a head start to straighten and sort out certain housing cases, Councilmember McDuffie led a roundtable on civil right to counsel, introducing the \”Civil Gideon\” program. The discussion took place on June 22, 2016 at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law.
Relief for Residents in the District
The inclusion and funding of this program is critical and comes at a heighten time in the city as one of its biggest challenges remains housing; needless to say access to free legal counsel to low-income tenants at or below 200% of the federal poverty line facing eviction. The program is about keeping people in their homes and protecting District residents and families from unjust evictions suggest Councilmember McDuffie.
\”It is my sincere hope that this program is just the first step in establishing a right to counsel for specific housing court cases in the District of Columbia. Just as the Supreme Court decided in Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963 that it was unconstitutional to allow a person to go without representation in a criminal trial. I believe it is unwise and immoral to send people to court with their homes on the line without representation.\”
Residents not only face challenges from illegal apartels, they then face a judge with limited understanding of their rights as a resident of the district. \”The overwhelming majority of low-income tenants in the District of Columbia go to court without an attorney. This puts them at a severe disadvantage in comparison with well represented property owner without an attorney, tenants can miss important deadlines misunderstand documents and procedures and make harmful decisions without being fully informed of their rights, and in some instances lose the case even when the eviction being sought is without merit.\”