by Edythe Jensen - Nov. 14, 2008 07:11 AM The Arizona Republic
Retired New Jersey lawyer Stan Friedman started helping troubled Chandler renters six months ago. Now he's recruiting other former attorneys to join the cause so he can expand tenant-focused free legal services to more Valley cities.
Friedman, 75, said most tenants facing eviction or legal conflicts with landlords have no representation when they go up against the property managers' lawyers. They nearly always lose. He and four other volunteer lawyers from Phoenix-based Community Legal Services give several days a month at San Marcos Justice Court where Justice of the Peace Keith Frankel allows unrepresented tenants facing eviction to seek last-minute legal advice.
Friedman, a Chandler resident, also hosts public information sessions with city neighborhood services officials.
The need - and the satisfaction he gets from helping renters - spurred Friedman into an expansion mode. His target: attorneys who came here from other states. Arizona allows them to practice law here without taking the bar exam as long as they don't take payment for their services.
"I'm hoping that others who come here to retire like I did will get antsy and wonder what to do with their time," he said. "I'm getting a lot of satisfaction from helping people."
Contributions can be just an hour or two a week, and Friedman is seeking other justices of the peace willing to host volunteer lawyers on days when landlord-tenant cases are heard. Evictions make up a large portion of justice court caseloads.
In a recent Chandler case involving a disabled military veteran facing eviction, Friedman said the vet couldn't pay his rent on time because he hadn't received anticipated government disability checks. Late fees and court charges nearly doubled what the veteran owed his landlord. Minutes before the case went to Frankel, Friedman negotiated an agreement with the landlord's lawyer that waived the extra fees and stopped the eviction so long as the veteran paid his rent when the checks arrived. A judge couldn't legally do that, Friedman said.
Ken Volk, founder and president of Tempe-based Arizona Tenants Advocates, said free legal advice for cash-strapped tenants is a much-needed public service. "There are very few lawyers who represent tenants," he said. "It took us years to find one who would take referrals at a discounted rate of $100 an hour."
The advocacy group is inundated with requests for help, especially now when foreclosures on property owners who fail to make mortgage payments are forcing out tenants who are good renters and pay their rents on time, Volk said. "Having two voices in court system would go a long way toward leveling out that slanted view" that favors landlords, he said.
Volk said he was unaware of Friedman's work in Chandler and wants to talk to him about the expansion plans.
Lawyers interesting in volunteering can contact:
Community Legal Services, 602-258-3434 ext. 2244.