2013 Equal Justice Works Fellow, Michaela Wallin

Michaela Wallin

City, State: New York, New York
Issue area: Domestic Violence
Sponsors: Morgan Stanley; Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP

The Project

Michaela worked to combat the growing tide of nuisance ordinances that threaten the safety and housing security of domestic violence victims through legal representation, policy advocacy, and outreach.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project: 
Despite a well-known connection between domestic violence and housing insecurity, local governments are increasingly enacting local nuisance ordinances that exacerbate the perilous position of domestic violence victims. Ordinances typically impose sanctions on property owners if police are called to a home more than a certain number of times and only remove sanctions if owners evict the tenants. These ordinances endanger domestic violence victims, who may not leave their abusers permanently until after several attempts, so they repeatedly experience crime in their homes. Every day these laws force victims to risk the long-term effects of housing insecurity by calling the police or risk their lives by not calling. Nuisance ordinances have also been found to be enforced disproportionately against minority communities and persons with mental disabilities.
Fellowship Highlights: 
During her Fellowship, Michaela:
• Represented a domestic violence survivor in Surprise, AZ who was threatened with eviction pursuant to a local nuisance ordinance because she called the police to report the abuse. After negotiating with the city and the landlord to halt the eviction, Michaela filed a complaint and preliminary injunction in federal court challenging the city’s nuisance policy. This lawsuit stands to benefit the millions of Arizonans subject to local laws that can similarly penalize tenants based on crime at a property, even if the tenant was the victim
• Worked to challenge a nuisance ordinance in Norristown, PA, contributing legal research and analysis in support of motion practice and settlement negotiations. The case settled with an award of $495,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees, repeal of the ordinance, and training for city staff
• Supported advocates in PA and IL to achieve passage of state bills to affirmatively address nuisance ordinances
• Educated state legislators, their staff, and other local stakeholders on the need for a NY state law to protect crime victims’ right to seek and receive police aid without reprisal
• Authored a report issued by the ACLU, which analyzes nuisance ordinances’ disproportionate impact on victims of domestic violence survivors and harm to victims of other crimes through case studies of two cities in upstate New York
Where are they now?: 
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Michaela is clerking for a federal magistrate judge in the Southern District of New York.

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