UB is embarking on an important pilot project with the Baltimore City District Court to provide unrepresented people with "court navigators."
Court navigators are undergraduate, graduate and law students who have been trained about how the court works and can help an unrepresented person navigate the steps of the court process. This pilot project will focus on helping tenants who are suing landlords for failure to repair hazardous housing conditions such as lack of heat or hot water, leaks and mold, and vermin infestation. As indicated in a recent Baltimore Sun article, tenants in Baltimore experience great difficulty in enforcing their legal right to safe and healthy housing, and court navigators could help.
Court navigators will provide these tenants with basic information about their legal options, assist them with filling out court forms, go with them into the courtroom hearings and into hallway negotiations, and aid with any followup steps afterward. They can also help tenants with organizing their paperwork, figuring out budgets, and getting access to resources. In other words, court navigators can help unrepresented people pursue their legal cases more effectively than when they go it alone. They can also help streamline the legal process to make the court work more efficiently. If it is successful, this pilot effort can be expanded to cover more types of cases and more courts in the State.
The students featured in this video include some of those at UB who participated in the working group that came up with the plans for the navigator project, and also some of those who have signed up to serve as the first navigators. Faculty, students and community partners have come together to make this project possible and to provide support and input. In addition, a large study group convened by the Maryland General Assembly, including a wide range of stakeholders, reached a consensus that this navigator pilot project should be implemented.
The ideal solution for the unrepresented in civil legal cases is a right to counsel, similar to that enjoyed by criminal defendants, and indeed efforts are going on around the country and here in Maryland to try to achieve that goal. Navigators can’t do all that attorneys can do. But until and unless every unrepresented person has a lawyer, they can help level the playing field.
The value of this kind of assistance has been proven by a similar navigator program undertaken in New York, which was praised in a New York Times editorial and has showed substantial benefits, as demonstrated in its social science evaluation. Maryland’s own navigator project will hopefully improve upon New York’s version, by offering more extensive training and providing assistance at a lower cost.
If you have any questions or would like further information, email Prof. Michele Cotton.