By Joshua Burd
McCarter & English has launched a new initiative to provide pro bono legal representation to Newark residents who are facing eviction proceedings by their landlords.
The program, slated to begin in early fall, will expand the law firm’s pro bono services to low-income tenants in its home city, McCarter announced Tuesday. The initiative also calls for collaborating with community service organizations, the mayor’s office, universities and other stakeholders to educate tenants about their rights and influence public opinion by speaking and writing on the societal and legal aspects of eviction.
During an event at Four Gateway Center, McCarter’s headquarters, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka praised the initiative and said the firm “has been an important partner in our work to build a stronger, more equitable city.”
“We are very grateful that the firm is teaming with us to protect the rights of some of Newark’s most at-risk residents, tenants waging unequal battles against landlords unjustly seeking evictions,” Baraka said. “These residents desperately need the seasoned talented and compassionate representation that McCarter & English will provide.
“I thank McCarter & English for creating this fellowship involving significant social justice issues affecting Newark and thank them for supporting our city and its residents in so many ways over the years.”
McCarter’s executive committee, which unanimously approved the creation of the new fellowship program, has set a starting salary that is competitive for public interest lawyers, plus benefits, the firm said in a news release. The fellow will report to Michelle Movahed, the firm’s pro bono director, and Robert Mintz, managing partner of the firm’s Newark office.
The attorney may also engage in other forms of policy advocacy.
“We will start out concentrating on the unmet legal needs of tenants, but we’re going to be flexible,” said Movahed, an experienced social justice lawyer. “If it becomes clear in the future that the city’s residents need our support in another area, the fellowship program will adapt accordingly.”
The firm, whose founder is the namesake of McCarter Highway, has deep roots in Newark that go back more than 150 years. Mintz said those ties “warranted a unique commitment to the city’s residents,” which will continue through the new fellowship.
“This newly created position will allow our attorneys and staff to continue to make meaningful contributions that improve the lives of Newark residents by helping to avoid the disruption that evictions bring to families,” said Mintz, a white collar criminal defense lawyer. “We believe that this is one of the only pro bono positions in the country that has a geographical focus.
“Rather than limiting ourselves to a particular area of law, we wanted to more broadly serve the legal needs of the residents of Newark.”
Movahed said there was a “staggering” number of tenants facing eviction without legal representation, adding that landlords file tens of thousands of eviction proceedings against tenants in Newark and surrounding communities every year. Only a fraction of those tenants have legal representation, she said, noting that McCarter is looking for a lawyer “who is passionate about serving low-income Newark residents and who is ready to use a variety of advocacy tools to advance their housing-related rights and needs.”
Ideal candidates will have four years of experience, including two litigating in housing court, and will be fluent in Spanish and/or other languages commonly spoken in Newark.
The service will add to an array of existing pro bono work that includes expungement, anti-trafficking, civil rights and immigration, McCarter said. The latest initiative stems from conversations with Baraka and his team, Mintz said, adding that, “just as our connection to Newark is unique among law firms, this fellowship is uniquely Newark.”
“The mayor asked if the firm would be willing to take on this issue and we jumped at the opportunity,” he said. “While we are certainly not anti-landlord — we represent a number of commercial landlords — we do want to support Newark and its residents.”