Jeffrey Gold
DePaul University
EJA Fellowship Recipient, Summer 2001, Summer 2002, Fall 2002
Staff Attorney, Indiana Legal Services, Inc.

 
   
 
“I love that being a direct legal service attorney, I can see immediate, direct and important impact every day.”
   

An eviction notice can spell catastrophe for people without the means to find another place to live. And those who say they’ve been wrongfully kicked out often get short shrift at eviction hearings, says EJA fellowship recipient Jeffrey Gold. “When tenants are unrepresented in court, the hearing lasts all of one or two minutes.”

As an attorney with Indiana Legal Services, Inc., in Bloomington, Gold works to protect the rights of subsidized housing tenants in rural areas, fighting evictions and preserving clients’ subsidies. He makes sure his clients get a fair chance to have their side heard, no matter what the reason for their eviction.

Take, for instance, a recent client of Gold’s, an African-American mother who was evicted from her apartment by her white landlord. By all accounts, she’s “a pretty respectable, decent person,” Gold says, who works and paid her rent on time. Her crime? She was heard using profanity while talking to her child on the apartment porch. It may not be a great parenting method, says Gold, but “getting angry at your kid, is that really grounds for eviction?”

He presented her case to a judge, who lectured the mother but ruled that she could not be evicted for using bad language. She now gets to keep her home, and perhaps will think twice about cursing in front of her child, Gold says.

Most housing cases are resolved in a month or less, Gold says. “It’s pretty quick satisfaction for me and the client.” But helping clients stay in their homes is only part of what Gold does. What his work is really about, he says, is connecting people to resources that will assist them for life and protect them from problems in the future.

For nine months he has been working on one housing case involving a young couple whose learning disabilities meant they had problems budgeting their money and paying the rent. “The check would come in,” he says, “and it would all go out to—literally—video games, or pretty frivolous expenses, when you’re on a fixed income.”

Gold first represented the couple as they fought an eviction, and in the process helped them set up a rent payment system. But the system didn’t work out, and so Gold embarked on “a lot of pavement pounding, just seeing who can help these people.” He finally found a counseling service that would assist his clients in managing their money. The eviction case was later dropped.

The most frustrating part of Gold’s job, he says, is “seeing clients who come back, who come back with the same situations.” Taking the extra time to find lasting solutions for their problems makes all the difference, he says.

As a law student at DePaul University, Gold had worked for legal organizations such as the ACLU, and, he says, “in that experience I saw the impact of large scale class-action law… and never met any clients.” Then Gold was awarded three EJA fellowships to support his work with the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, where he got his first opportunities to work one-on-one with clients and represent them in court. This was what he wanted to do, Gold realized.

Without Equal Justice America, he says, “I think I would not have had the experiences in law school that guided me to the career path I’m on.”

Gold hopes to remain at Indiana Legal Services as long as he can. “I love that being a direct legal service attorney, I can see immediate, direct and important impact every day,” Gold says. Every day when he goes home, he thinks about “one case that I closed, or one person that I helped, “ he says. “They can keep a roof over their head for tonight.”

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