by Adrian Tirtanadi, Esq., executive director and co-founder, Bayview Hunters Point Community Legal
Justice is the backbone of civil society, the very core of a democracy. The law, however, is a confusing morass of conflicting rules and decisions that is often impenetrable to the average citizen. Until last month, there was nowhere permanent that residents in Bayview Hunters Point could go to for basic legal help.
Other high need neighborhoods in the city have lawyers on the ground, on a permanent basis, to help residents solve their legal needs. Chinatown has the Asian Law Caucus, the Mission has La Raza, the Tenderloin has the Tenderloin Housing Clinic. Now, Bayview has its own legal organization: Bayview Hunters Point Community Legal.
Ms. Becky Fowlis certainly had issues finding legal help when she was defrauded by her friend’s creditor and trampled by Wells Fargo. Despite a valid stop payment order, Wells Fargo paid out on a cashier’s check to her friend’s creditor. Becky tried her best to resolve the dispute with Wells Fargo, but the managers she dealt with kept changing and the corporate bureaucracy kept giving her the run-around. Not knowing where to go for help, and not having the funds to pay for a private attorney, Becky sat on her case for years.
Until last month, there was nowhere permanent that residents in Bayview Hunters Point could go to for basic legal help.
Becky was one of the organization’s first clients, but by the time she became a client it was almost too late: Her only option left was to file a lawsuit against Wells Fargo. Attorneys at Bayview Hunters Point filled out her paperwork to file in small claims court and wrote a detailed legal brief and declaration for the judge. They guided Becky through the entire process, even doing practice hearings to try and prepare Becky for her appearance.
Regarding her experience, Becky says: “I’m so appreciative of the help that Bayview Hunters Point Community Legal provided me. They took the time to research and review my case and taught me a lot about the law along the way. They treated me like an actual person and really showed that they were concerned about the community. I truly appreciated their effort. I think they did a fantastic job and I’m so thankful that they are here now.”
Attorneys at Bayview Hunters Point filled out her paperwork to file in small claims court and wrote a detailed legal brief and declaration for the judge. They guided Becky through the entire process, even doing practice hearings to try and prepare Becky for her appearance.
Becky’s issues are unfortunately not unique. Studies have shown that only about one in five people in need of legal help gets assistance from a lawyer and that low-income households experience between two and three legal problems per year. Even by conservative estimates, this means that every year there are thousands of unmet legal needs in Bayview Hunters Point. For Becky and the thousands of other residents who can’t afford a private attorney, these unmet needs represent a huge gap between the promise and reality of justice.
Bayview Hunters Point Community Legal opened on Jan. 7, 2013, thanks to the combined efforts of dozens of people. The organization now works to eliminate this justice gap. It serves as a one-stop access center, helping residents in almost any legal subject area.
Attorneys at Bayview Hunters Point Community Legal do not represent clients in the courtroom. Instead, they focus on doing factual and legal research, attempting to resolve disputes outside the courtroom and on helping people file in small claims court.
Bayview Hunters Point Community Legal is innovative in another way too: Every single client becomes a member of the non-profit and obtains governance rights over the strategic direction of the non-profit. Since our bylaws require that all clients be residents of Bayview Hunters Point, this basically makes it legally impossible for us to move our services out of the community.
Bayview Hunters Point Community Legal serves as a one-stop access center, helping residents in almost any legal subject area.
In the short time that Bayview Hunters Point Community Legal has been open, it has started cases with 30 other clients just like Becky. It has helped people in family law, in public benefits law, in landlord-tenant law and many other subjects. Best of all: The services are free to community members. While the organization does ask for a minimal donation from all our clients that scales based off household income, no one is ever denied help for not donating.
Right now Bayview Hunters Point Community Legal is a small non-profit funded through private donations, but it plans on aggressively growing to assist the community with a wide variety of legal needs and projects. Visit the website at bhpcommunitylegal.org to learn more about the organization, or call (415) 735-4124 to set up an appointment.