Carl Sessions ’19 Named as a 2019 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Carl Sessions, a May 2019 graduate of Chicago-Kent College of Law, has been selected as a 2019 Equal Justice Works fellow. During his two-year fellowship, Sessions will represent tenants in eviction court and secure relief for tenants who have viable claims related to the substandard conditions in their homes. His fellowship is sponsored by the Rossotti Family Foundation.
Sessions was inspired to create the fellowship project while working as an intern at the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH), which will host his fellowship. At the time, he represented a woman facing eviction because she partially withheld her rent payments after her landlord refused to fix a collapsing ceiling. Sessions raised eight counterclaims, compelling the landlord to withdraw the case, allow the family to stay for another few months, and waive the back rent. It was a great outcome for his client, but Sessions knew that the family could have gotten more.
“My project developed from the recognition that legal aid typically only defends someone from eviction but often does not make tenants whole and does not force landlords to fix the underlying conditions and issues that cause people to withhold rent,” says Sessions.
Of the 25,000 residents of Cook County who end up as defendants in eviction court each year, only about 5 percent have attorneys. Without representation, and under the pressure of landlord’s counsel, tenants often unwittingly agree to be evicted and pay back rent, even when they have strong counterclaims.
Sessions will help fill that gap in legal aid by expanding the Eviction Brief Advice Desk, a collaboration between LCBH, LAF, and DLA Piper that offers free assistance to renters at the Daley Center. Sessions will train additional pro bono partners to volunteer their time to assist tenants in understanding their rights and negotiating with their landlords.
“I am also excited to work with community organizers to identify tenants who are experiencing building-wide conditions issues,” he says. “There are a few large management companies with a ton of units in Chicago that are notorious for failing to perform repairs, and tenants in these buildings deserve compensation and to have the problems fixed.”
Sessions became interested in housing issues soon after he moved to Chicago and began volunteering with the National Lawyers’ Guild as a legal observer at protests.
“The first event I was a legal observer at was a demonstration by residents of the tent city under the viaducts in Uptown, who were protesting the city evicting them from under the bridges,” he recalls. “The folks educated me on how profoundly broken the housing system is in Chicago: The majority of Chicago renters spend over 30 percent of their income on rent (are ‘rent burdened’), environmental conditions in many rental units are hazardous and inhumane, and aldermen regularly side with developer interests over working-class people in their neighborhoods. “
Born and raised in Iowa City, Iowa, Sessions graduated from Grinnell College with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. At Chicago-Kent, he earned a J.D. certificate in Criminal Litigation and received a full-tuition scholarship through the Honors Scholars Program.
During law school, he competed on the Moot Court Honor Society team, earned CALI Awards for the highest grades in Civil Procedure and Legal Writing III, and worked in the C-K Law Group’s Criminal Defense Clinic for two semesters. Sessions has completed internships at the Office of the Lake County (IL) Public Defender, Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, and the Legal Council for Health Justice. He was also a law clerk at Edelson PC.
After completing the fellowship, Sessions hopes to continue working in public interest law and eventually have his own practice.