Travis County eviction court has looked different during the pandemic. Hearings, for the most part, have been held virtually; people can log in from anywhere and learn if they have to be out of their house.
Standing in a parking lot. On break from their job. In the car. On the couch.
Some of the players are different, as well. Because evictions are civil cases and people are not guaranteed an attorney, it’s rare to see them in eviction proceedings. But as part of a new program funded through the state, lawyers now show up in Travis County virtual courtrooms offering to represent tenants for free.
“It’s an absolute world of difference,” said Carl Guthrie, a lawyer with Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas, which oversees the program. “Evictions are technical, right? It’s the law. And a lot of times they’re done wrong, especially when there’s not attorneys on either side.”
‘Showing up, expecting to get evicted’
Volunteer attorneys have been in Travis County’s virtual courtrooms since September, available to help renters with their cases. This is the norm in other cities, including New York and Philadelphia, which have established “right-to-counsel” programs, where low-income tenants are guaranteed access to a lawyer.
Typically, Guthrie said, tenants in Travis County are surprised to see one.