Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 34

THE PRO BONO EFFECT
inroads into the affordable housing arena and hold landlords
accountable."
Biles and Merrifield represented the Congress Heights tenants over
the course of several years and through many twists and turns.
The OAG brought the case into receivership, ordering Sanford
Capital to either repair the properties or negotiate a sale with
tenants. And in 2017 Biles and Merrifield filed a lawsuit when the
company attempted to deed the properties to a new buyer without
allowing residents to exercise their TOPA rights. After a disastrous
fire in 2018, Biles worked to place the residents in safe alternate
housing. The case is ongoing as the properties are in receivership
and repairs are being made. Biles is committed to seeing the case
through.
"Once Blake gets involved in a matter, he's going to stay until it is resolved,"
says Racine. "We began to work on the Congress Heights case in 2015. Here
we are in 2019 still going through court processes, and the team led by
Blake and Will is still there."
"Blake is a tremendous partner," says Merrifield. "He understands the onthe-ground issues that residents face and works on that level, meeting
with tenants face to face and being hands on, which gives him a firm
handle on the situation. He's also able to get tremendous support, especially from his firm, which deeply understands the case. The people Blake
brings in from Arnold & Porter are really invested in a way that goes
beyond pro bono hours."
During the Congress Heights cases, Biles also worked with the OAG in
litigation involving another Sanford Capital property in Ward 8 that had
also fallen into disrepair. The OAG launched an additional lawsuit against
Sanford Capital for terrible living conditions at Terrace Manor Apartments,
a 61-unit property. Sanford Capital filed for bankruptcy, putting the future
of the tenants in jeopardy. Biles quickly went to work, bringing in Rosa
Evergreen, a top bankruptcy attorney at Arnold & Porter (and co-recipient
of the 2018 D.C. Bar Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year Award), to represent the
tenants of Terrace Manor. In the end, a new developer purchased the
property in bankruptcy, and the residents were relocated to better apartments with the guarantee that they could return to Terrace Manor once
renovations are complete.
The lawsuits against Sanford Capital - the result of the partnership
between tenants, Biles and other attorneys from Arnold & Porter, the
Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, and the OAG - forced the
company to retreat from the D.C. rental market, transferring its ownership
of several rental properties to a new company.
"They're a godsend," says Jameson of Biles and Merrifield. "Because
without them, I don't know where we'd be."
Biles, of course, prefers to be in the trenches and away from the spotlight,
allowing his work to speak for itself.

A HISTORY OF SERVICE
Blake Biles grew up in Kansas, the youngest of three boys. Biles's mother was
a schoolteacher who taught at the poorest school in their town of 40,000.
Biles recalls that his mother worked hard to give back to her students. At
Christmas, his mother told him that he would get fewer gifts because she had
students who needed shoes. "I was taught that there are people who are less
fortunate, and you should help them," Biles says.
34 WASHINGTON LAWYER

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NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2019

Growing up in the 1960s, Biles wanted to "save the world" and got
invested in the law, pondering whether to focus on poverty or environmental issues. Deciding on environmental law, Biles graduated from the
University of Kansas School of Law in 1975, then joined the newly created
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), serving first as an attorney in
the Office of General Counsel and later as director of the Office of Toxic
Substances.
After five years at the EPA, a mentor persuaded him to go into private
practice, and in 1980 Biles left the agency to join the firm Jones Day. There
he took on pro bono work, handling cases involving Social Security claims
and other matters. He was given his first landlord-tenant case in the mid1980s, and in the latter part of the decade he began working with the
Legal Counsel for the Elderly, eventually serving on its advisory board.
His pro bono efforts focused on wills, public benefits, and housingrelated cases.
"I found that there are two groups of people that were apolitical to work
with: seniors and children," says Biles. "It's easy to help them both."
Biles also took on more systemic cases, including several years of work
with prison inmates at Louisiana State Penitentiary, more infamously
known as Angola, following a spike in suicides and unruly behavior
among inmates after guards withheld mental health medication.
Leaving Jones Day, Biles joined Arnold & Porter, where his practice
covered all types of environmental legal matters, including counseling,
transactions, rulemakings, compliance audits, and both enforcement and
appellate litigation. A large benefit of working at the firm was its commitment to pro bono. "It was an easy fit," Biles says of the work and Arnold
& Porter's pro bono efforts. "I was very happy to be there."
Biles's time at the firm intersected with that of Jim Sandman, president of
the Legal Services Corporation since 2011. Biles and Sandman practiced
together as partners at Arnold & Porter for 25 years, and it was there that
Sandman witnessed how Biles successfully managed the demands of a
full-time commercial practice while also maintaining a huge pro bono
caseload, setting the standard for both partners and associates at the firm.
"What makes Blake a role model for D.C. lawyers is the way in which he
has focused on the needs of low-income residents of D.C.," says Sandman.
"I think what Blake has done over his four-decade pro bono career is the
model for the difference a lawyer willing to do substantial pro bono work
can make in their community."
Biles is the "unscrupulous landlord's nightmare," Sandman says. "He
demands and obtains repairs, he goes after housing code violations,
and he's an expert on tenant rights."

IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL
Vera Watson recalls the day in 2013 when her apartment's management
company notified residents that it planned to demolish the building.
"I felt devastated," she says. "I guess they saw all the development happening in the neighborhood and thought they could just push us out."
Watson is a longtime resident and the current tenant association president of Museum Square One, a 302-unit apartment building in Mount
Vernon Square that in 2014 was at the center of a major housing dispute.
Located near Chinatown, the low-income building is home to primarily
Asian American and African American residents, many of whom were
Section 8 recipients.



Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar of Events
Going Above and Beyond feature
On Safer Ground feature
Casa Ruby Profile
Pro Bono Effect
Member Spotlight
Worth Reading
Media Bytes
Attorney Briefs
Ask the Ethics Experts
Disciplinary Summaries
Community & Connections
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 1
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 2
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 3
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 7
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 9
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 11
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Going Above and Beyond feature
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 13
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 14
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 15
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 16
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 17
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - On Safer Ground feature
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 19
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 20
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 21
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 22
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 23
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 24
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 25
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Casa Ruby Profile
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 27
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 28
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 29
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 30
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 31
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 33
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 34
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 35
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 36
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 38
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 39
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 41
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Media Bytes
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 46
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 47
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Last Word
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Cover4
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