Lee Camp knows that the deck is stacked against most of his clients.
“A lot of the statutes, the laws themselves, aren’t the most tenant-friendly,” he said. “I try to work to find new avenues of advocacy for those individuals so they can not only get their day in court but also so they can get a meaningful experience when they interact with the court.”
Those individuals often are like Latasha Johnson, whose case Camp took to the Missouri Supreme Court. The result in 2018: a change in longtime policy that rent money must be posted with the court in cases involving a tenant who wishes to make a challenge over uninhabitable or substandard properties.
“It was a suit to really hold accountable those landlords that don’t always repair those properties, to give tenants more power to hold them accountable,” Camp said.
That’s part of what Camp likes about the law.
“I always knew that I wanted to help people, and when I went to law school, I knew I wanted to do something in this public-interest realm,” said Camp, a graduate of Saint Louis University School of Law who began working as a law clerk at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri in 2013.
“I just loved it. I loved working with the people,” he said. “The cases were very interesting.”
That passion has followed him to ArchCity Defenders, where he handles civil and criminal matters from the municipal to the federal level. Much of his work focuses on issues related to tenant rights and fair housing laws affecting marginalized or underserved populations. Unlike Johnson’s case, however, most of those matters don’t go to the state’s highest court.
“We’ve found out that this is where the rubber meets the road with the justice system,” he said. “It is at these low levels of the courts, and they may never see the justice system again.”
A native of Tennessee, Camp grew up in the Nashville area where he got his first taste of property law while working in his father’s landscape-architecture business.
“I had some experience dealing with zoning and ordinances, and things that controlled the way property was governed. I was able to transition my knowledge of that over to my practice of law,” he said. “That was one thing, but I absolutely loved the litigation itself. I loved being able to hop into the fire right out of law school and try cases.”
For Camp, that’s part of his larger belief about how legal options should be employed.
“I’ve enjoyed being able to use the avenues that the law presents to try to find equity and make the St. Louis community a more equitable place for everyone, a more just place for everyone to live — regardless of if you are sleeping in the streets or sleeping in Ladue.”
Unfortunately, despite the victory in achieving an important change in procedure, his client still lost her residence. But Camp and ArchCity Defenders know that their commitment to helping others doesn’t end there.
“We take a holistic approach to helping our clients,” he said. “With Ms. Johnson, after she was evicted from that home, we worked with her to actually get her rehoused. I love that. When the law doesn’t always work for clients, we try to find ways to make them sustainable and make them enjoy a happy and healthy life.”
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