Reform Rochester Now!

Making city and citizens self-sustaining

Small claims court

God, people love to sue landlords. For the price of fifteen scratch-off lotto tickets, your chance of getting a big win is higher than 1 in 2 if you just take the bus down to the Hall of Justice and file the papers. Trust me on this, you don’t even have to show that there was a lease agreement. The landlord may not know you from the man in the moon–that will actually strengthen your case because he or she will look like a huge liar. You don’t have to prove anything you say, you’ve already got years of judicial chaos backing up your testimony.

The judge presiding over the April 18 case against me in small claims didn’t ask what the judgment amount was for. It wouldn’t have mattered to her that it was for water bill overages. I lost the case, and she didn’t waste her time reading Judge Crime’s ruling in the matter: GLAAAARRRRGHH! (I wonder how you spell that, as a court reporter.)

Woke up this morning from a dream. Judge Crime, all sour-faced, was sitting on a street corner near an entrance ramp from 490 in his flowing black robes, brown at the bottom from collected road dirt, holding a piece of cardboard with words hastily scrawled on it. As you get closer to him, you can read the marker: “Will adjudicate for food.” If you have to stop for the red light, he will run up to you with some old legal books soaked with his tears and snot and try to squeegee your window with them.

Then, suddenly I was in City Court and some of the women judges I’ve appeared before came out in a line, hand in hand, doing a Rockettes routine. Okay, now I’m stretching it a little bit, that last part didn’t really happen.

Back to February 3rd… the Legal Aid attorney was coming up with reasons why I wasn’t qualified to evict the tenant in question. Nowadays they really hit below the belt. I glanced at her clipboard and frowned to see a familiar name: Anna Lippizan. Anna was apparently her immediate supervisor, and someone I had discussed a case with the previous week. (Hmm, isn’t that called a Conflict of Interest?)

So, as difficult as it may be to imagine a landlord whose net income is less than $10,000 a year, imagine how difficult it is to get competent legal advice when your ex-husband doesn’t pay child support, and he’s an active duty soldier. I can’t tell you how many times I was referred to Legal Aid over the past 3 1/2 years, but I can show you the dated stationery they used to tell me No. The most recent time I went to the VA hospital, and the administration there directed me to Anna’s boss at a branch of Legal Aid concerned with finding employment for returning vets. She directed me to Anna.

Anna was sympathetic and as helpful as she could be, but since the jurisdiction over my child support and custody issues lies out-of-state, there were limits to what she could do and say. Nonetheless, after the mystifying confrontation I had in court with a Legal Aid lawyer bearing a clipboard with Anna’s name on it, I had to renew contact to find out what the hell was going on. That council landlords are supposed to go to was worthless for advice of any kind, and Judge Crime obviously didn’t owe me an explanation.


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