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"Tonight, my four children and I will have a roof over our heads, because I had a lawyer."
T’shika Balentine has a story to tell you.
Balentine took part in a press conference in Madison, Wisconsin Sept. 30 that marked the filing of a petition by 1,286 Wisconsin residents, asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to create a civil right to counsel for poor people.
Standing on the steps of the Capitol, Balentine said:
Good afternoon. My name is T’shika Balentine.
I’m a student at Madison Area Technical College and the mother of four children. I’ve lived in Madison for nine years. Because we are a low-income family, we get help with the high cost of rent through the public housing program known as Section 8.
If a lawyer from Legal Action of Wisconsin had not helped me, my family would be homeless tonight.
My landlord tried to evict me after I got into an argument with another tenant and I received a ticket for disorderly conduct in 2008. If my family had been evicted, we also would have been kicked out of the entire Section 8 program. We would not have been able to get help with housing costs for at least five years.
I tried to work with the landlord so that we could stay. The landlord told me to contact the building’s lawyer, which I did. The landlord’s lawyer was not helping me. He was the lawyer for the landlord, not for me. He was telling me I had to move out, and giving me deadlines.
I contacted Legal Action and Heidi [Wegleitner] became my lawyer. Heidi went to work to keep my family from being put out on the street over a loud argument. Heidi looked at my case and determined that the landlord didn’t have the right to evict me. And she was able to file papers with the court that fully represented my rights. This is something I never could have done on my own.
Earlier this year Heidi and the landlord’s lawyer settled the case. Tonight, my four children and I will have a roof over our heads, because I had a lawyer.
Heidi made the difference for me. She understood my rights and how the courts work, and she was my tireless advocate. She took on my case as if it was hers.
At MATC I’m studying small business and human services. I want to earn my associate’s degree and one day open a house for troubled teens, where they can be safe and also learn a trade. I’d like to reach out and give back to my community.
I have learned through experience that a person without a lawyer can be denied justice.
And I believe that you should be able to get a lawyer based on your circumstances, not because of how much money you have in your pockets.
I hope the Wisconsin Supreme Court will think seriously about this petition, and do the right thing for less fortunate people in Wisconsin.