Trials and Arbitration

Only Line of Defense: In confusing world of civil debt proceedings, volunteer attorneys pick up the slack

Only Line of Defense: In confusing world of civil debt proceedings, volunteer attorneys pick up the slack

On a Tuesday morning last Spring, Judge Mark Scurti took the bench at the District Court for Baltimore City before dozens of defendants summoned to small claims court: Some navigated the crowded courtroom with canes, some with partners and fussing children in tow, and others alone. Many were in work uniforms, ready to head straight to a shift. Others were there to speak on behalf of their elderly parents who'd been sued by creditors, having taken the morning off work.

Like most days, almost every defendant in the courtroom was black.

A couple of hurried attorneys in suits flitted in and out of the courtroom, shuffling papers and exchanging whispers with the...