Peace and Quiet at Last for Tenant Sued by Neighbor
Victor Flood was recently assisted by Public Counsel's Proskauer Federal Pro Se Clinic. Victor had lived in his apartment building for over a decade when new neighbors, a woman and her young baby, moved into the unit below his. As soon as she settled in, this neighbor began a pattern of disruptive behavior. She played music at all hours of the day - - and so loudly that Victor's walls vibrated. He also heard strange knocking and banging sounds and smelled smoke coming from the woman's kitchen. After months of sleepless nights, Victor, a soft-spoken elderly gentleman, finally complained to this noisy neighbor, who promised to stop.
When the behavior continued, Victor informed the landlord and finally the police. But the neighbor also called the police, claiming Victor was the one making the noise. For two to three years, Victor endured constant noise and several false police reports.
Finally, in March of 2009, the neighbor retained an attorney and sued Victor and his landlord for allegedly violating the federal Fair Housing Act. The neighbor claimed in her lawsuit that Victor and the landlord were discriminating against families with children by conspiring to drive her and her child out of the apartment.
Victor's landlord immediately retained an attorney to fight the lawsuit. But for Victor, paying for an attorney wasn't an option. Victor is a Section 8 tenant with virtually no income who had no choice but to fight the lawsuit in pro per.
Fortunately, Victor came to Public Counsel's Proskauer Federal Pro Se Clinic. He was about to lose by default because he had failed to answer the lawsuit. Public Counsel's attorneys realized that Victor could barely read the lawsuit, let alone respond to it. Even though Victor's landlord admitted that he had never had any problems with Victor, it was clear that if Victor did not find representation, he would be held liable for acts he did not commit.
The Clinic's attorneys quickly helped Victor draft a request to the Court for an extension of time to respond to the complaint. The Court granted the request. Over the next few weeks, the Clinic's attorneys interviewed Victor extensively and drafted an answer to the complaint on his behalf.
Public Counsel placed Victor's case with a team of pro bono counsel from Paul Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP, led by attorney Stephen Turanchik, and including attorneys Adam Cherensky and Melinda Gordon and paralegal Rebecca Loh.
Over the course of several months, these attorneys engaged in intensive discovery proceedings during which they learned that Victor's noise complaints against the neighbor were not the first. Tenants in her previous apartment complex had made similar complaints against her. As she did with Victor, she had retaliated against these other complaining tenants by calling the police.
After a five-hour deposition of the neighbor, during which she made so many contradictory statements that Victor's attorneys felt sure they could establish her lack of credibility, the neighbor agreed to settle the case. Victor was required to pay nothing.
The noisy neighbor has since moved out of the apartment complex, and Victor can again enjoy his home of over twelve years. "I don't know what I would have done without the Pro Se Clinic," says Victor. "I appreciate them [for] getting me the lawyer from Paul Hastings. I want to thank them all from the bottom of my heart..... I want to reach my heart out to you and say I love you forever."
Public Counsel launched the Proskauer Federal Pro Se Clinic In February 2009. The Clinic - - the largest of its kind in the country - - is housed on-site at the Spring Street federal courthouse, and provides legal advice, technical support, and (where appropriate) pro bono legal representation to plaintiffs and defendants who are pursuing their federal claims in pro per. In its first nine months, the Clinic served nearly 600 clients. The Clinic was made possible by a seed grant from Proskauer Rose LLP and the leadership of Judge A. Howard Matz, who has helped with the planning and execution of the Clinic.