Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, a nonprofit civil legal service provider for low-income and older clients, is looking to expand its forcible entry and detainer program.
The agency has about 350 volunteers in its various programs in Tulsa and surrounding counties. They handle between 200 and 300 civil cases a year. It also has 10 in-house attorneys who handle hundreds of other cases.
"Low-income people are many times preyed upon, and we try to help," said Karen Langdon, the agency's pro bono services coordinator.
The forcible entry docket deals with landlords and tenants and is handled by Judge Millie Otey four days a week. However, with only five to eight regular volunteers in that program, Legal Aid is able to staff the docket only two of those days.
"Very often these people would be evicted," said James Proszek, an attorney with the Hall Estill firm.
Langdon said people with Section 8 vouchers lose their voucher if they are evicted, so attorneys work with landlords to reach an agreement to allow the tenant to vacate instead of being formally evicted so they can protect their voucher benefits.
Volunteers helped with 175 eviction cases last year.
Cases vary from landlords not keeping up their property and tenants not paying their rent to partners no longer being able to live together.
"Sometimes a tenant might lose their job and need time to pay. We try to find a way to work it out with the least amount of courtroom involvement," Proszek said. "If we can't work out a solution we'll try the case."
Proszek said volunteering with the program would be a chance for young lawyers to get good courtroom experience.
"Nothing is going to come close to standing in front of a judge. That's something you can't get from a book," he said. "It never hurts to build a good reputation, and it's a fantastic opportunity for young lawyers."
Legal Aid provides a training session for new volunteers.
"We would truly love to have more help," Proszek said. "There are a lot of people who really need the service of a lawyer but can't afford it. They can't afford to pay their rent. If they get thrown out, their next stop is under (Interstate) 244."
Wendy Brooks, senior counsel at Williams, added that volunteering with the program is a good way to provide pro bono work in just a day's time instead of being on cases that could last months.
"After the day, you're finished," she said.
For more information, call Karen Langdon at 918-295-9422.
By: Mike Averill World Staff Writer