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Kings County Housing Court issues statement condemning activists’ invasions of lawyers’ offices

August 14, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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The Kings County Housing Court Bar Association issued a statement on Wednesday calling out activists who protested against the courts potentially resuming eviction proceedings by storming the offices of attorneys in Downtown Brooklyn last week.

“A group of self-proclaimed ‘activists’ have recently deemed it appropriate to invade the offices of attorneys who represent landlords and disrupt their businesses and, in some cases, vandalize those attorneys’ offices,” said a statement issued by the Bar Association.

“This is never appropriate and cannot be condoned or allowed to happen,” the statement continued. “Those ‘activist’ actions are misguided, wrongheaded and illegal. What these self-appointed activists forget is that most so-called ‘landlord firms’ also represent tenants who also are entitled to zealous representation.”

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The Bar Association, one of the most active Housing Court related bar associations in New York City, is made up primarily of attorneys who represent landlords, but many represent tenants as well, and there are members of Legal Aid and the Brooklyn Defender Services who regularly attend meetings.

These lawyers have stressed that everyone, landlord and tenant, is entitled to representation in court, and that in many cases landlords are not seeking evictions, but merely wish to work out payment agreements, especially during the pandemic.

“In order to pay for this mandatory maintenance, and provide tenants with safe and clean housing, landlords need rental income to sustain their buildings,” said the KCHCBA’s statement. “The failure of tenants to pay their rent may result in Owners being unable to pay their mortgages, taxes as well as water and sewer charges. As happened during the 1970s, this may result in the City retaking properties in tax lien foreclosures.”

One judge who sits in the Brooklyn Housing Court who has resumed in-person cases said that so far she hasn’t had any trials because most parties are doing what they can to work out agreements without resorting to going to court.

Advocates, however, have pointed to predictions of a foreclosure and eviction crisis as soon as the courts reopen. Already there are 14,000 eviction cases in New York City that have been adjudicated in court. Because Gov. Andrew Cuomo halted evictions, so far no one has been removed from their home.

One group estimated that nearly 1,496,000 households are at risk for evictions in New York State.

One attorney turned to the KCHCBA after her office was placed under siege by protestors.

“They protested inside of my office, inside of the vestibule,” Michele Slochowsky Hering said. “It was really alarming, to say the least. They were coming up the stairs, some up the elevator. I’m laughing now, but honestly it was nothing close to funny. It was outrageous. Me and two female staff members were here and that was it.

“They were banging the office door, chanting their chants like, ‘go kill yourselves,’” Slochowsky Hering said.

The Kings County Housing Court Bar Association suggested that instead of attacking private attorneys, many of whom are solo practitioners, advocates should focus on petitioning the government to address people in dire financial situations. They predict that if evictions aren’t resumed and there is no legislative solution, there could be an economic ripple effect that could worsen the effects of the pandemic.

The New York State Bar Association also weighed in after hearing of the attacks and harassment of attorneys in their offices and said that activists are threatening the right of people to be represented by attorneys in court.

“In the United States, everybody is entitled to legal representation,” said NYS Bar Association President Scott Karson. “Regrettably, that cherished principle of American justice appears to have been lost on these protesters who trespassed onto private property to berate and threaten three individuals simply because they were doing their job providing legal representation to clients with whom the protesters disagreed.

“Every time that a lawyer is threatened, harassed or intimidated because of who they represent the right to counsel is imperiled. The association decries the actions of these protesters,” he said.

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