Chadbourne Enforces Judgment Against Landlord in Tenancy Dispute with Disabled Veteran

Global Business June 14, 2016

Chadbourne & Parke LLP is pleased to announce that it has successfully enforced a judgment against the landlord in a tenancy dispute with a disabled veteran that made headlines earlier this year. 

The firm was retained to enforce a US$122,190 judgment obtained by Neighborhood Legal Services Program (NLSP) on behalf of Larry Edwards. Mr. Edwards, an elderly Vietnam veteran, was unlawfully evicted from the apartment he rented from Peaceful Haven, Inc., a local business that receives government funding to provide housing to homeless veterans. In January 2014, in the midst of record cold weather, the heat and power to his apartment was shut off without notice. Ten days later, Peaceful Haven’s owner, LaTonja Martin, informed Mr. Edwards that she was terminating his lease and that he had to vacate the apartment immediately. Mr. Edwards was locked out of the apartment, unable to gather his belongings, and forced to find temporary shelter. An investigation conducted by NLSP revealed that Mr. Edwards was one of several homeless veterans targeted and unlawfully treated by Ms. Martin. In 2014, NLSP sued Ms. Martin and Peaceful Haven, Inc. in DC Superior Court. Ms. Martin failed to appear for any of the proceedings and suffered a default judgment in July 2015.

We were referred the case in August 2015. Associate Richard Waddington enrolled the judgment in Maryland, where Ms. Martin owns a US$700,000 home, and began serving her with discovery in both Washington, DC and Maryland in an attempt to identify assets to seize. Ms. Martin has numerous other creditors and is adept at hiding assets and evading legal process. After months of failing to respond to discovery requests, motions to compel discovery, and two show cause hearings for contempt, she finally agreed to produce information about her assets. However, the information she produced was incomplete and intentionally misleading. In response, the court held her in civil contempt, awarded Chadbourne a portion of its attorney fees, and remanded her to the Washington, DC jail where she remained for three weeks.

Incarceration is an effective means to encourage settlement. Ms. Martin has agreed to pay the entire judgment and the attorney fees awarded by the court. Pursuant to the terms of the consent judgment, Ms. Martin tendered a US$30,000 initial payment today and will pay the remaining balance in ten monthly payments. Although there is no guarantee Ms. Martin will pay the balance, Mr. Waddington was able to convince the Court to stay—rather than dismiss—the contempt proceedings. Therefore, if Ms. Martin fails to timely pay the balance of the judgment and attorney fees, the Court may recommence the contempt proceedings, which could result in additional incarceration.

The dispute was covered in a February 13, 2016 Washington Post article titled, “The confounding story of the disabled veterans who went weeks in winter without heat—and then were evicted.”