John S.* was the victim of identity theft – a nightmare for anyone, but for John, even more daunting because John is deaf. When his stolen credit cards resulted in nearly $7500 in consumer debt, the card company hired a law firm to collect. The firm had an incorrect address for John and he never received the notice of complaint – making an already difficult situation that much worse. With no response from John, the law firm filed a judgment against him and soon after, his modest wages were garnished. Now John could not pay his rent and with missed rent payments came an eviction notice. John was about to become homeless.
For any of us this scenario would be extraordinarily difficult. For a deaf person, navigating the legal system can be an impossible effort. With the help of Bruce Gitlin and the New York Center for Law and Justice (www.lawjusticecenter.org) that he founded last year, John was able to successfully appeal the improperly served summons and complaint, have his wages restored and the threat of eviction eliminated.
Though a seasoned attorney, Bruce never really forgot his earliest years in practice when he met a deaf woman who was an activist on behalf of the deaf community. She herself was not an attorney but she began a clearinghouse for legal service matters involving the deaf community with the help of others who agreed to serve on a pro bono basis. It was then that Bruce "immediately appreciated the profound need for the representation of the indigent, deaf." As years passed and his regular legal practice continued Bruce’s interest in serving those who lived in poverty, particularly those with a disability never waned. As he began to study for the rabbinate it seemed even more appropriate that he bring all of his professional skills together in an organization that could help those in the New York indigent, deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
We’ve met Bruce a few times and were impressed with his gentle nature, his passion for social justice and his willingness to take on this work. The Good People Fund is committed to underwriting both the cost of ASL (American Sign Language) interpreters who accompany indigent, deaf clients to their attorneys, as well as to the clients’ transportation costs, when necessary.
What a great model for other communities where the indigent, deaf population is underserved and forgotten.
*"John" is a pseudonym.