Fair Housing Law

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The Fair Housing Law Clinic, which is offered in conjunction with the Housing Advocates, Inc. (HAI), a fair housing agency and public-interest law firm. See www.housingadvocatesinc.com, offers law students the chance to work on the fair housing cases of  real clients.  Students in the Clinic have the opportunity to work on a variety of aspects of the legal process.  These include client intakes, legal research, and the drafting of legal briefs and memoranda.  Clinic students also attend legal proceedings such as depositions, Ohio Civil Rights Commission hearings, pretrial and trials.

Clinic students and staff attorneys have presented arguments as amicus curiae (friend of the Court) before various Ohio Courts of Appeals, the Ohio Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth and Sixth Circuits, and the U.S. Supreme Court. The subjects ranged from the legality of banning real estate for sale signs to requiring landlords to evict mobile/manufactured homeowners only for just cause.

Supervision is provided by attorneys from HAI, including Cleveland-Marshall Adjunct Professors Edward G. Kramer and Marilyn Tobocman, and by Cleveland-Marshall Professor Stephen Lazarus.  Edward Kramer, Director & Chief Counsel of HAI, founded the organization in 1975.  Marilyn Tobocman , Ohio Assistant Attorney General, has dedicated her career to public interest advocacy.  David Oakley, the senior staff attorney of HAI, is the primary coordinator of the students.

Goals

The clinic program has a number of goals.  The primary focus of the course is to help students develop the skills that will be important to them as working attorneys.  Students work under the direct supervision of attorneys at HAI to improve their interviewing and counseling techniques.  In addition, Clinic work invariably helps students improve their research and writing skills.  Clinic students receive a variety of writing assignments including drafting pleadings, discovery documents, motions, briefs and legal memoranda.  In addition, the supervising attorneys teach students about important lawyering skills such as case theory development, fact investigation, and negotiation strategy.  In these ways, the experience in the clinic can help students become better future attorneys.

Another very important goal of the Fair Housing Law Clinic is to provide legal services to those who have been discriminated against on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, handicap, sex, or familial status.  Many of the Clinic’s  clients are poor and would not be able to afford legal help without the assistance of HAI and the legal clinic.  Much of the work at HAI would not be possible without the assistance of students through this clinic program, and thus, it would be much more difficult to help guarantee that the civil rights of some of the most unfortunate in our society are not overlooked.  Conversely, law students who take this clinical course gain a better understanding of public interest law in general and fair housing law in particular.  In fact, some former students have gone on to practice public interest law.

Examples of the Types of Litigation of the Clinic

The philosophy of the Housing Advocates, Inc and the Clinic is that a legal system in which only the politically powerful and wealthy can afford legal representation is not only inherently unfair, but justice will be better served, if all persons are represented. The Clinic offers minorities, women, disabled and the poor an opportunity for housing justice. Some examples of the types of cases litigated are:

  • A young black family, after moving into a predominantly white suburb of Cleveland, was terrorized by a group of local white teenagers. The teens vandalized the family's home, breaking windows and tormenting the family by placing a burning cross bearing racial epithets in the family's front yard. Clinic staff attorneys were successful in applying several unique theories of liability in this case. Lawyers for the teens argued that since the family was able to purchase the house, the Federal Fair Housing Act did not apply.  Citing the provision of the law which prohibited conduct that would make housing "otherwise  unavailable," Clinic attorneys argued that the teens' actions would result in the family moving out and serve as a warning to other black families not to choose housing in the area, thereby violating this section of the law. The court agreed with this position.
  • HAI attorneys, working in tandem with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, played a key role in obtaining a consent order in federal court which awarded $1,213,650 of HUD funds to the tenants of a largely minority housing development, to improve their living conditions and to desegregate the development. The public housing tenants filed a complaint in federal court citing fair housing violations by the Geauga Metropolitan Housing Authority (GMHA). The black tenants of the housing project were denied numerous amenities which had long been available to primarily white housing projects of GMHA, such as potable water, garages, adequate light and ventilation. The tenants compared their housing to a prison complex while the white low income housing projects were designed as townhouses.
  • The Clinic staff attorneys represented a Coalition of 27 non‚Äëprofit corporations which monitored the disbursement of Community Development Block Grant funds in Cuyahoga County.  The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) administers the Block Grant program.  The Coalition had filed administrative complaints with HUD that communities were not following their mandatory duty to develop fair housing plans. When HUD failed to take any action a lawsuit against a specific community and HUD was filed by the Coalition. The trial court found that the Coalition had no standing to sue either a City receiving block grant funds or HUD for failure to implement a fair housing program.  This decision left citizens without a legal remedy whenever the law was being violated and the federal administrative agency refused to take action. The Clinic staff attorneys appealed this decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, arguing that HUD's failure to enforce compliance with the block grant recipient’s obligations had caused "injury in fact" to the Coalition's mission of promoting fair housing.  The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and remanded the case. On remand, the trial court found that the Coalition had standing to sue.  The suit was settled after the ruling when the community came into compliance with the applicable laws by developing a fair housing program. However, by allowing organizations and individuals access to the legal system when the laws are not being enforced, the significance of this decision cannot be overstated.

Course Prerequisites & Requirements

The Fair Housing Law Clinic is offered to students who have completed the required core curriculum.   It is also advisable, though not required, to have taken or to take concurrently Evidence (LAW 661). Students who have completed two thirds of the credits required for graduation are eligible to obtain Legal Intern status from the Ohio Supreme Court, allowing them to assume more responsibility during legal proceedings.  This is not a requirement, however.

Students may take the Fair Housing Law Clinic for up to two semesters, and you may take the course for 2,3 or 4 credit hours each semester.  The number of credit hours determines the work assigned to and the time required of a student.  The course is offered Fall, Spring and Summer semesters.

Clinic students are expected to work approximately 8 to 16 hours per week in the Clinic based on the number of credit hours for which they are enrolled.  Most of the casework is performed at the offices of HAI at 3214 Prospect Ave and 3655 Prospect Ave offices, just a few minutes from CSU. However, students may also be asked to do research at the Cleveland Marshall library or to attend case proceedings in courts or at other locations.

There is also a weekly seminar which will be scheduled around the schedules of the students who have enrolled in the course for the semester.  During the seminar, students will review with Professor Lazarus and the HAI attorney’s legal issues that have surfaced during the past week and will recount their experiences for the benefit of the other students.  Readings on fair housing law and other pertinent subjects re usually assigned.

Clinic students must demonstrate good professional work habits and collaborative skills.  Since their work is performed for actual litigation it is imperative that the work be of high quality and be completed by given deadlines.  HAI attorneys and Professor Lazarus are available and more than willing to provide guidance.

Clinic Students must follow the guidelines of professional responsibility and ethics when working at on Clinic matters.  Many of the Clinic’s clients are in uncomfortable and precarious situations.  It is of the utmost importance that Clinic students maintain confidentiality and respect the attorney client privilege. It is expected that as a result of their work in the clinic, students of the Fair Housing Law Clinic will have a better understanding of how to be competent, reflective and ethical practitioners of the law.

Grading

There are no exams, papers or quizzes in the Clinic. The focus of the course is to assist the Law Student Interns to develop and improve practice skills. Grades will be determined by Professor Lazarus and Professor Kramer based on a number of factors which include:  interviewing skills, client contact and notification, dealing with difficult clients, appreciation of ethical considerations, class participation, creativity, persuasiveness, improvement in trial skills through participation in weekly classes, and case planning, thoroughness of preparation of pleadings, attendance at class and during office hours, investigation, developing witnesses, understanding evidentiary foundations; quality of written communication, correspondence, case summary reports, and other forms; independence of thought, and ability to manage time and cases. The Cleveland Marshall Law School curve does not apply to this course.

Registration And Further Information

To register for or learn more about the Fair Housing Law Clinic, contact one of the following:

 
Steve Lazarus
Professor

LB 212

(216) 687-2347
 
Edward G. Kramer
Adjunct Professor
 
(216) 431-7400
ext 101
 

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