Spring may have already come and gone, but the lawyers of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund have hardly noticed. By April, their two biggest cases–blocking the auction of the community gardens and fighting to revoke the sale of the Lower East Side community center CHARAS–were both coming to a head. A CHARAS lawsuit was resolved in late March, meaning the building’s title could be transferred at any moment. And 115 of the gardens were slated to be sold off on May 13.
So the four attorneys simply moved into the PRLDEF offices. “Both of these lawsuits jumped into the hot water at the same time, that’s what the real killer was,” explained PRLDEF staff attorney Foster Maer. “For three to four weeks, we were sleeping here all the time. And I live only 10 blocks away.”
The work was especially challenging, said Maer, because both cases are unconventional from a legal perspective. The CHARAS complaint, filed earlier this month, alleges that the building’s sale violates the First Amendment rights of its activist members, and points to the restrictions that came with the federal community development funds used for building repairs.
The surprise rescue of 115 community gardens from the auction block gave the attorneys a reprieve, but the laborious legal work of trying to preserve the remaining lots will continue. “We think there are approximately 12 gardens that are in a status that could allow the city to move against them at any moment,” said Sara Rios, PRLDEF’s litigation director.
“I don’t have a personal life anymore. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I had one,” laughed Rios. “But we are so proud to represent the gardeners and the people at CHARAS, who’ve been working so hard to bring something good to community. For us to represent them is a privilege, the kind of lawyering we value.”