National Legal Aid and Defender Association intends to highlight and profile all of the praiseworthy nominees for the Beacon of Justice Award in upcoming newsletters and materials, including Martin Blaustein.
Martin Blaustein has devoted his career to enhancing the dignity and quality of life for those less fortunate. Prior to obtaining a law degree, and after his service in the Vietnam War, Marty worked for the Odyssey House expanding mental health services for patients in both New York and then Utah. After his time with the Odyssey House, he assisted Veterans who suffered from PTSD, at the time not a recognized diagnosis, get benefits and services. Marty has now been at Utah Legal Services for over 25 years. He is the most self effacing, humble and hard working attorney I know. He quietly goes about zealously representing clients, giving them a voice and making equal access to justice a reality for Utah’s poor. He is committed to his work and has tirelessly strived to bring his vision of equality for all to the legal profession. Through his advocacy, his pro bono services, his mentoring and teaching, and his outreach to the larger community Marty Blaustein has made an impact on literally thousands of lives.
Marty joined Utah Legal Services (“ULS”) as a managing attorney in 1989. He brought his passion for Veterans services to ULS and continued that representation as well as training others on PTSD related cases. In addition, he handled domestic, elder law, and housing cases. He was promoted to Managing Attorney of the Salt Lake City office. He has been the Managing Attorney and Housing Task Force Chair for the past 17 years. In this capacity, Marty is responsible for managing all statewide housing cases in addition to personally carrying a full case load which requires him to travel around the state for litigation. He also manages and trains all housing advocates in addition to assisting pro bono attorneys and mentoring hundreds of law students from Universities across the country including: the University of Utah, Brigham Young University, Gonzaga University, University of Idaho, and Michigan’s Cooley Law School. While Marty’s accomplishments are too numerous to cover in detail, the following gives you an idea of the breadth and nature of his lifetime of service.
As a recognized expert on landlord tenant law, Marty is frequently asked to educate the client community, other attorneys, and the judiciary. From 2000-2010, Marty trained district court landlord tenant mediators. In 2009, he was asked to be a guest lecturer at the Annual Utah Judicial Conference. At this conference he addressed district court judges and court commissioners on issues related to housing and landlord tenant law. In 2012, Judge Michele Christiansen, of the Court of Appeals, asked Marty to prepare a Housing Manual to be used for training all new judges. He has also appeared on “Get Gephardt” a local television news segment more than twelve times, including the premier, to discuss issues related to Utah and Federal Housing laws. He is frequently asked to speak at law school events, continuing legal education seminars and other Utah State Bar events. Since 2005, Marty has also been a substitute member of the Utah Labor Commission Appeals Counsel. On this Counsel he reviews cases and assists at appeal hearings regarding employment related issues such as denials of worker compensation and employment discrimination. Currently, Marty is working with the Administrative Office of the Courts to change discovery rules in eviction cases where tenants only receive three day notices.
In addition to his paid work, Marty has always been actively involved in providing pro bono services. Prior to joining ULS, Marty founded the Utah Vietnam Veteran Memorial Committee to commemorate a 20 foot bronze statue on a prominent space at the West Side of the Utah State Capital. He acted as the treasurer and legal counsel to the committee. In 1984, Marty assisted 18 plaintiffs with receiving their monetary awards from a class action case against the chemical companies that manufactured Agent Orange. The disbursement involved some of the $284,000,000 settlement, the largest class action settlement in history at that time. He was invited to discuss the case on local and national broadcasts. Between 1989 and 1994, Marty published 26 articles in both national and local publications including Bravo Veterans Outlook and The Utah Veteran. The articles discussed Agent Orange, veterans in prison, discharge upgrades, and a host of other issues related to veteran survival. In 1989, Marty was recognized for his outstanding contributions with the
First Annual Utah Issues “Hell Raiser of the Year” award for challenging Utah’s archaic landlord tenant laws. Marty has been a constant voice for the underdog even when it is unpopular, as was the case when representing PTSD Veterans, or when the laws are stacked against him, such as his current work in landlord tenant law.
Marty has represented more tenants than all the other tenant advocates in Utah combined. The following examples outline Marty’s passion for his work, the nature of his client’s needs, the impact of his advocacy, and the innovation in his approach.
In northern Utah, Marty successfully litigated an eviction case where his client, a Section 8 tenant, was being evicted for moving to a handicapped accessible apartment after the property owner gave consent. Because she did not get consent from the Housing Authority (“HA”), she lost her subsidy and the HA sought $10,000 in landlord reimbursement. The landlord sued the tenant for nonpayment of rent who then counterclaimed that the landlord authorized the move with authority from the HA. Marty also helped the tenant by filing a third party action against the HA claiming they denied her procedural due process rights by unlawfully terminating her subsidy. The result of Marty’s efforts was that the client was reinstated and the HA waived the $10,000 claim against the landlord. This was such a great success that the Ogden Standard Examiner published an article about the matter.
In southern Utah, Marty successfully litigated a case he designated the Cinderella Case. His client, a 15 year old mentally disabled girl Cindy, moved into her mother’s friend’s house when her mother passed away. During her stay with her new “family”, Cindy was told she would get the home when her new “mom” and “dad” died. Cindy never sent to school, never had a boyfriend and was clothed as a man. During her years with her “family,” she functioned as a cook, nurse, housekeeper and keeper of the farm animals along with providing, as an adult, sexual favors to the father figure. At the age of 63, she alleged her “dad” fathered her only child. Said child was born in San Diego and immediately put up for adoption. The child died in an auto accident at age 22. Based upon the allegation, the family removed her from the family trust and then filed an eviction action to remove her from the only home she knew. She hired a private attorney on the issue of trust termination and the court ruled the trustees had the right to terminate the trust. In the complaint answer, fortunately, her counsel claimed implied in fact contract.
When ULS took the case, and with discovery deadlines exhausted, ULS filed a motion for summary judgment claiming an implied in fact contract did in fact exist. Cindy supported the contention with 15 affidavits from friends and family, all of whom stated they had personal knowledge of the promises made by “mom” and “dad.” Said promises included her right to remain in the home until her death. With statements in affidavits demonstrating promises and her reliance upon those promises, Cindy sought justice and demanded her story be told publicly. Prior to going to the hearing on our motion, the family wanted to settle and reunite and offered to resolve the dispute by permitting her to remain in the home for life. Although she did not kiss the prince, she is currently happy in her life estate and family of animals.
In an attempt to make a larger impact on tenant issues in northern Utah, Marty chose to litigate every eviction case brought in a three year period by a certain slum lord who was also the executive director of a controversial federally supported poverty program. This man used program resources to refer tenants to his section 8 properties. In addition, he would use tax supported resources to make repairs to his private business. In all, he filed 30 eviction cases using four different attorneys and lost each case to Marty. Finding no eviction success, he filed a discrimination action in federal court naming ULS, Marty and his paralegal Linda Laws as Defendants. His theory was that he was being discriminated against because ULS worked harder against him, a black man, than against white landlords. He claimed ULS never lost a case as proof. ULS hired counsel who ultimately filed a motion for summary judgment claiming no discrimination, as ULS never or rarely lost a case against white landlords as well. With all the litigation completed, his poverty program board of directors fired him and attempted to repair the damage he did to the community.
In the 1980’s Marty represented a Vietnam veteran named Doc who suffered from PTSD. At the time the professional mental health community had serious doubts about the authenticity of such a diagnosis. Doc was a young medic assigned to 121st Airborne Division. He was less than 20 years old and had a high school diploma. He was very proud of becoming a medic and his “brothers” relied upon him for all their medical needs. His unit was under heavy attack from a very determined NVA force. Many of his “brothers” were killed. He believed he failed his best friends because he could not stop the “bleeding.” His friends believed in him and yet he could not do anything to save their young lives. He felt enormous guilt which resulted in drug and alcohol abuse. He walked the streets of SaltLake, unemployed, wearing street clothes and a leather top hat. He was, without question, a lost soul. When he and Marty met, he wanted assistance with filing a disability claim with the VA. Historically, the VA had routinely turned down PTSD claims and the VA was likely to do it again. He insisted Marty tell his story win or lose.
Marty filed the claim with his medical and military records and an affidavit of events based on his experiences. The arguments were full of the client’s youth and inexperience and his participation in events that were beyond the scope of normal human behavior. He supported his claim with medical/psychological statements along with affidavits from family members who stated his return from Vietnam resulted in this Mormon young man being a person nobody recognized. His claim was successful and he was ruled 100% disabled. His life, however, did not change. Having money could not erase the guilt and torment he suffered. He died years ago, but his story was told. Go “doc.” This case was the first in Utah where a veteran was awarded a 100% PTSD rating.
Marty’s impact on the community is nearly impossible to calculate as he has fought for more than 30 years to improve the lives of his clients with immeasurable results to their families, friends and larger communities. Marty is truly one of the greatest advocates for the poor and downtrodden in our society and is very deserving of this award.