Aug. 13, 2020
Contact: Angelica Luna-Kaufman
Harris County Judges Work to Make Legal Aid Available for Those in Housing Court
Judge Eric Wiliam Carter and colleagues help bring pro bono assistance into the eviction process
Harris County Justice of the Peace Eric William Carter expects to see a surge of eviction cases in his court during the upcoming months. Pandemic-related work stoppages have led to an increase in the number of unemployed and under-employed in Harris County. As a result of lost income, many families cannot afford to pay their rent.
“COVID-19 has created a dire situation for both tenants and landlords,” says Carter. “I anticipate we’ll see a dramatic uptick in cases.”
In Texas, the state provides attorneys for criminal cases but not for civil cases, like evictions, and Carter says many litigants represent themselves in housing court.
Recently, however, the option of having legal representation has become more available for those who otherwise could not afford it. Carter has partnered with his fellow Harris County judges, as well as the South Texas College of Law Houston, to help bring pro bono — no cost — assistance into the eviction process.
“This joint effort between my colleagues and me, as well as STCL, directly serves many in need of no-cost legal representation during these challenging times,” said Carter.
The project emerged from an ad hoc effort by South Texas College of Law Houston.
“Before COVID, STCL representatives were going to the Civil Courts every week, setting up a table outside the courthouse and offering assistance to those who needed it,” Carter said. “Now, the focus has moved from the Civil Courts at Law to the Justice Courts, where the bulk of the housing cases are being seen.”
“As judges, our role in a trial is defined and constricted by statute. But one way we can help in this crisis is to educate individuals trying to navigate the eviction process about the resources that are available to them,” he said.
“The work being done by Judge Carter and the other Harris County judges demonstrates the importance of voting in local elections,” says Lillie Schechter, Harris County Democratic Party Chair.
“More than 90 percent of elected positions are at the local level,” Schechter said. “Often these races appear at the bottom of a very long ballot, and because of recent election-law changes in Texas, voters can no longer vote a straight Democratic ticket.”
“Democrats must complete their ballots from start to finish, selecting every candidate with a Democrat next to their name,” said Schechter. “These down-ballot races are key because the officials elected will influence how equitable life in the region will be.”
“Democratic elected officials like Judge Carter demonstrate that you can uphold the law impartially, while demonstrating patience and compassion,” she said.