SIDEBAR Fall 2017 - 22



The MBF Access to Justice Summit
Plants Seeds for an EPIC Program
By Nancy Walsh


t the Montgomery Bar Foundation's first Access to Justice
Summit this past April, improved collaboration and
communication were identified as key components of
future efforts to address the access to justice gap throughout the
county. Building on the momentum generated at the Summit,
a post-summit focus group discussed various areas of need and
possible solutions, ultimately identifying landlord/tenant issues as a
promising focus where collaborators could have significant impact.
At the same time, representatives of Your Way Home
("YWH"), Montgomery County's coordinated housing crisis
response system for those experiencing homelessness, were
launching a new phase of the program's development, enhancing
their efforts to assist those at risk of homelessness. To that
end, YWH contracted Barbara Poppe, a national expert on
homelessness, to provide guidance in the development of an
eviction prevention program. After reviewing the research on
various homelessness prevention program models nationwide, in
addition to specific community data and interviews of key county
stakeholders, YWH decided to explore the same-day court/legal
service models presented to them. Many facts and insights gave
validity to the choice and directed their next steps:
* A study on Eviction Prevention in Milwaukee estimated that
more than 70% of U.S. households facing eviction receive no legal
representation (Seedco 2009);
* Research has shown that tenants with counsel are significantly
less likely to be evicted than unrepresented counterparts, regardless
of case merits (Seron et al. 2001);
* A combination of supportive services (i.e. money
management, addressing housing conditions, tenant education,
emergency financial assistance, incomes and benefits, etc.) and
some element of legal services (mediation; legal representation;
referrals) is proven to be most effective;
* Same-day legal representation for court-based eviction
prevention programs is the superior model;
* Partnership with a judge is KEY to success.
Eager to forge a connection with the legal community,
YWH representatives met with representatives of Legal Aid of
Southeastern Pennsylvania ("LASP") for guidance. Aware of the
Bar Foundation's commitment to continuing the work begun
at the Summit, LASP suggested YWH reach out to the Bar
Association/Bar Foundation to explore the idea of a possible
collaboration. Participants of that initial meeting noted that the
connection seemed a bit like kismet, with the goals and focuses of

each organization in near-perfect alignment. And thus, the seeds of
what promises to be a groundbreaking and impactful program were
Thanks to the tireless work of many dedicated individuals
- including Denise S. Vicario, Esq. (Chief Deputy Court
Administrator); John E. Savoth, Esq. (Deputy Court Administrator
- Special Courts); Judge Margaret Hunsicker (Magisterial District
Court, Norristown); Barbara M. Smith, Esq. (Montgomery Bar
Foundation Trustee); Elizabeth W. Fritsch, Esquire (Executive
Director, LASP); Susan L. Strong, Esquire (LASP); Michael E.
Kelley, Esq. (LASP); Eileen F. Carroll, Esquire (LASP); Emma
Hertz (YWH); Patricia M. Hampson, Esq. (MBA Volunteer);
Nancy R. Paul (Executive Director, MBA & MBF); and Nancy
Walsh (MBA Access to Justice Coordinator) - the pilot program of
the Eviction Prevention and Intervention Coalition (EPIC) will
soon be launched.
EPIC is a pilot project designed to provide free, limited
representation to tenants facing eviction in Judge Hunsicker's
Norristown district court. EPIC will utilize services of pro bono
attorneys to provide same day, limited representation to tenants
facing eviction due to non-payment, will offer social services to
help prevent eviction (including financial assistance), and will
connect to the supports needed to maintain stable housing moving
forward. The goal of the pilot project is to stabilize vulnerable
households in the Norristown community who have historically
limited access to legal representation. The pilot will run for 6
months, after which YWH will review the data to determine if the
project should continue and expand. Although final details are still
being addressed, all involved have marveled at the level of efficiency
and enthusiasm which has moved this innovative program so
effectively through the development process, with an anticipated
launch in January 2018.
The Montgomery Bar Association will be working with YWH
to provide pro bono attorneys to participate in the program. LASP
attorneys, along with Judge Hunsicker, will be conducting a free
CLE-training on Thursday, November 30 at the Bar building for
all those interested in volunteering for this exciting program. For
more information or to express your interest, contact Nancy Walsh
(; 610-994-3663), and be on the
lookout for registration information soon.
Thanks to all involved for providing an EPIC example of the
power of collaboration for all who seek to make a difference in our

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