Courtroom Advocacy Project

FOR TENANTS & CONSUMERS: 

Courts are hearing all cases now, but there are still reduced dockets.  If you are involved in a consumer debt, rent escrow, BOL (breach of lease), or THO (Tenant Holding Over) case and have not received anything from the court, you should check the status of your case on Maryland Judiciary Case Search: http://casesearch.courts.state.md.us/casesearch/

  • Consumers who have received a debt collection lawsuit in Baltimore City or Prince George’s County or need general advice regarding a consumer debt can reach a Consumer Protection Project attorney by calling 443-703-3053.
  • Tenants who have received a Failure to Pay Rent (FTPR) complaint in Baltimore City or need general advice regarding a landlord/tenant matter can reach PBRC’s Tenant Assistance Hotline by calling 443-703-3053.

ABOUT CAP

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The Courtroom Advocacy Project (CAP) is an innovative pro bono program providing day-of-court, limited scope representation to consumers and tenants in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County District Court. CAP Courthouse Clinics are staffed by PBRC volunteer and staff attorneys trained in consumer and landlord/tenant law.

Tenant Volunteer Lawyer of the Day Program (TVLD)

Approximately 150,000 Failure to Pay Rent Complaints are filed every year in Baltimore City. Tenants appearing in Rent Court are almost always unrepresented, unfamiliar with court procedures, and unaware of their rights as renters (such as the right to a safe, habitable home). Even if a tenant has a clear defense to their landlord’s claim for rent—no heat in freezing temperatures, sewage backups in the basement, windows that won’t lock or shut, or clear proof that rent has been paid—a represented tenant is much more likely to prevail than an unrepresented tenant.   

PBRC’s newest pro bono program, the Tenant Volunteer Lawyer of the Day Program (TVLD), operated its first limited-scope pro bono clinic in Baltimore City Rent Court in March 2017. Since then, TVLD volunteer attorneys have provided limited-scope representation to over 1,400 tenants in their eviction cases. The TVLD Program is supported by a grant award from the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) Access to Justice Department.   

In 2018, PBRC piloted its Rent Court Extended Representation Program where income-eligible tenants living in conditions that post threats to life, health, or safety are paired with a volunteer attorney for their rent escrow hearingSince then, over 40 tenants have received pro bono representation in their rent escrow hearing(s). Additionally, in partnership with Public Justice Center (PJC) and Homeless Persons Representation Project (HPRP), TVLD coordinates referrals for tenants with other housing matters, including breach of lease and subsidized housingThe Rent Court Extended Program is supported by a grant award from Maryland Legal Services Corporation (MLSC).  

VIDEO: Attorney Volunteer Barry Bach on his experience volunteering with the Tenant Volunteer Lawyer of the Day Program

 

VIDEO: Attorney Volunteer Cory Zajdel on his experience volunteering with the Consumer Protection Project

Consumer Protection Project (CPP)

Tens of thousands of Marylanders are sued each year under “affidavit,” a process by which a creditor can secure a money judgment in district court by filing an affidavit with documents to support their debt collection claim. Debt lawsuits filed under affidavit include hospital bills, auto loans, bail bonds, credit cards, and purchased debt. If debt collection lawsuits are not settled or disputed, consumers are subject to a money judgment and may be garnished to satisfy the debt. In contested cases, the consumer must go to trial pro se against the creditor’s attorney. The collateral consequences of a money judgment—even for a small amount—can be devastating.

In 2012, PBRC’s Consumer Protection Project (CPP) operated its first limited-scope pro bono clinic in Baltimore City District Court and Prince George’s County District Court in Upper Marlboro. Since then, CPP volunteer attorneys have provided limited-scope, day-of-court representation to over 3,500 consumers at CPP Clinics. CPP is operated in partnership with Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) and is supported by a grant award from the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) Access to Justice Department.

HOW TO VOLUNTEER

Each volunteer opportunity has a relevant training to prepare you for the work. Take a training to get started!

Civil Litigation in District Court

CAP volunteers who are new to district court litigation should view the webcast training “Civil Practice and Procedure in Maryland’s District Court” for an overview of civil litigation in district court taught by experienced trial attorneys. Pro bono commitment to TVLD or CPP Clinic.

Tenant Volunteer Lawyer of the Day (TVLD) – Baltimore City District Court

CAP volunteers who are new to district court litigation should view the webcast training “Civil Practice and Procedure in Maryland’s District Court” for an overview of civil litigation in district court taught by experienced trial attorneys. Pro bono commitment to TVLD or CPP Clinic.

Rent Escrow Low Bono Representation for Tenants – Baltimore City District Court

Attorneys who volunteer at (2) TVLD clinics are eligible for low bono (paid) case placements at a rate of $50.00 per/hour (10 hr/max). Tenants participating in this program are screened for habitability defenses and income eligibility at the TVLD Clinic (50% of Maryland Median Income). Rent escrow hearings are held on afternoon dockets in Baltimore City District Court (Civil Division – 501 E. Fayette Street). Contact Melissa Chiasera at mchiasera@probonomd.org for more information.

Consumer Protection Project (CPP) – Affidavit Judgment Docket – Baltimore City District Court

CPP assists Maryland consumers who have been sued by creditors in district court debcollection actions. Volunteer lawyers help consumers assert defenses in court, negotiate settlement agreements with creditors, and have the opportunity to represent consumers at trial. Contact Melissa Chiasera at mchiasera@probonomd.org for more information.

Consumer Protection Project (CPP) – Resolution Docket – Prince George’s County District Court (Upper Marlboro)

At a “resolution conference,” consumers meet one-on-one with plaintiff’s counsel to negotiate and settle the case. Most lawsuits on this docket originate from purchased debt, auto financing loans, and major credit cards. Volunteer attorneys provide a legal consult to consumers where they discuss potential defenses to the claim and options for settlement. Contact Susan Lerch at slerch@probonomd.org for more information.

CONTACT THE CAP TEAM

Melissa Chiasera, Esq.
Staff Attorney | Email Melissa

Akeria "Kira" Lumpkins
Senior Paralegal | Email Kira

Katherine "Katie" S. Davis, Esq.
Director | Email Katie

Amber Nestico, Esq.
Staff Attorney | Email Amber

Susan Lerch, Esq.
Staff Attorney | Email Susan

Kaynat "Ky" Qureshi
Paralegal | Email Ky