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Fighting for tenants’ rights

Friday, March 7, 2008

Speaker launched nonprofit to stop illegal evictions

—By Lori Craig

More than three years ago, Daniel J. Bramzon left big firm life to found the nonprofit BASTA, Inc., to fight for tenants’ rights.

Since then, he has witnessed the ugly side of landlord-tenant disputes.

BASTA founder Daniel J. Bramzon
 BASTA founder Daniel J. Bramzon

“Our attorneys have been offered $50,000 bribes,” Bramzon told USC Law students Feb. 27. “Our attorneys have been imprisoned. Our attorneys have been assaulted while … examining properties.”

Bramzon told the story of how BASTA grew from a one-man operation housed in his living room to a network of 14 attorneys and staff members in two offices, located in Los Angeles and Lancaster. His talk was sponsored by the Public Interest Law Foundation and La Raza Law Students Association.

He said he was drawn to public interest after taking on a pro bono case for a janitor at his Century City firm, his first case involving tenants’ rights.

“I was shocked to learn what actually happened at eviction court at the L.A. courthouse,” Bramzon said. “Eighty-eight percent of the tenants don’t have legal representation, and most don’t speak enough English to represent themselves. Poor tenants without attorneys would lose to landlords with attorneys.”

The system seemed to make fighting evictions difficult, Bramzon said. Trials before a commissioner were expected to last no more than 20 minutes and had an informal air, with witnesses answering “leading questions” from a desk rather than a witness stand.

BASTA founder Daniel J. Bramzon spoke at USC Law Feb. 26Bramzon began requesting jury trials before a judge. His first trial lasted an unheard-of four hours, he said, earning a round of applause from the galley, though Bramzon lost.

“They clapped because they saw a fight,” he said.

After becoming acquainted with the ins and outs of the court process in landlord-tenant disputes, Bramzon resolved to request a jury trial for every single case. Now, BASTA attorneys win 90 percent of their cases, he said, and the other 10 percent are dismissed.

“All our clients are very, very poor,” Bramzon said. “Most of them should not lose their cases. They have great defenses — they just have no representation.”

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