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Friday, February 22, 2019

New Jersey Black History Month, Unsung Hero Larry DeCosta, Part I

Larry D. DeCosta, a black attorney from the South, was born on October 24, 1950 in Hampton, South Carolina to Thomas and Sue DeCosta. His soft-spoken and humble ways continued to comprise his professional demeanor as an attorney both in and out of court. He spoke fondly of his time growing up in South Carolina and would say that persons living in the Northern States had much to learn from the gentility of Southerners. Larry D. DeCosta was a person who impacted the world and sought no fanfare. 

Larry DeCosta, never gave up but kept working for obtaining justice and furtherance of a better life for persons who sought help from Legal Services of Camden. He was fond of saying, “If others need your help and you have the ability to assist them, you cannot turn them away. You need to take all of the tools that you have learned and then think outside the box.” Many of the persons who sought the help of Mr. DeCosta at Legal Services could not only not provide for their families and meet their basic needs, but also could not provide for themselves.

I was fortunate enough to have Larry DeCosta as my mentor in my early days of lawyering from the time I was a senior at Rutgers School of Law. Mr. DeCosta was the Director of Camden Regional Legal Services and I was under his tutorage. He instilled in me that one of the most important aspects of lawyering was to give people hope, no matter what circumstances surround them.

Larry DeCosta was tireless in bringing both legal administrative claims with various state agencies and filing lawsuits in courts to enforce the legal rights of indigents and economically impoverished persons. In his fight for justice, he not only helped individuals find redress for wrongs against them, but advanced the legal rights of poor persons, such as in his landmark NJ Supreme Court case of Community Property Management v. Harris, 155 N.J. 212 (1998) in which many had advised him he had no chance to prevail and that he would be better using his time elsewhere. He was not dissuaded. His tireless advocacy such as in the Harris Supreme Court case which Larry DeCosta won, resulted in changing the law, not only in New Jersey, but other states changed their laws in keeping with this NJ Supreme Court decision, as a result of Larry’s dedication and hard work in winning. As a result of this landmark decision, New Jersey amended the law for the grounds for removal of tenants.

In this matter, Mr. DeCosta’s client, a tenant involved in a landlord tenant dispute had gone to court pro se and followed the instructions that the court clerk gave to her, which involved her paying a significant amount of money, which she had been led to believe would have restored her full rights to remain as a tenant and not be dispossessed. However, the Court clerk had given her incomplete advice, which translated into incorrect advice, which she relied upon and which did not restore her full rights.

In my first encounter with Mr. DeCosta, he explained this case to me. He had made a promise to Ms. Harris’ prior attorney who was departing from Legal Services, that he would bring this Harris matter to the Appellate Division, and to the Supreme Court if necessary, so that justice would prevail. In his own-soft spoken and humble manner, he was passionate that when a person goes to court, and relies upon the instructions given by the Court, they should be able to rely upon those instructions to obtain the relief they are seeking.

This case was cited in 82 other court decisions and at least 45 other legal authorities including the Seton Hall Law Review. in this excellent review in legal article entitled, HOUSING AND HOPE SYMPOSIUM: The Housing Crisis Facing Low Income Families, 29 Seton Hall L. Rev. 1498, Author.Cesar E. Torres, the author, wrote at 1498:

“Either we have hope within us or we don't; it is a dimension of the soul, and it is not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart …

Hope, in this deep sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out....It is also this hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.”

More shall be written about the life of this extraordinary hero in the next blog.

If you are being subjected to unlawful workplace discrimination, contact Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law today for a free consultation. New Jersey employment attorney, Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law serves clients throughout the state, including Bergen, Middlesex, Essex, Hudson, Monmouth, Ocean, Union, Camden, Passaic, and Morris Counties with locations in Southern, Central, Western and Northern NJ to meet with clients.

 

 


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