Bettina Plevan, a lawyer who helped lead successful legal battles for the poor, has died

Bettina Plevan, the civil rights lawyer who fought for black lawyers in public housing cases and was a leading member of the firm Goldberg Segalla, died at home, her daughter, Patty Hofers, told the Times. She was 75.

Plevan was a partner at the firm from 1980 to 1993, serving for a time as head of the firm’s Real Estate, Employee Benefits and Community Investment divisions.

At Goldberg Segalla, she was instrumental in a landmark case, U.S. v. Portillo, in which the firm convinced a Chicago jury to find in favor of a family of Latino tenants who were evicted because of substandard conditions in their apartment building. The verdict required the city of Chicago to enforce an ordinance that banned landlords from booting out their tenants for mere defects in their homes.

At the time, the case marked the first time a law firm had successfully argued a case on behalf of non-white tenants. The firm filed a further lawsuit, challenging a Chicago ordinance that imposed extra regulations on landlords when allowing the temporary relocation of tenants through rent reduction. The firm won that case and led other lawsuits, culminating in a lawsuit that forced Chicago’s public housing authority to allow families of black and Latino tenants to rent from private apartment owners and do not have to wait six months for permission to receive a new building.

She fought for many more civil rights issues, including the widow of a military hero whose son had been killed in Afghanistan and a housing commissioner in a New York City community who was harassed for refusing to throw her mentally ill son out of her apartment.

Her activism spanned decades. She began her civil rights career after marrying the civil rights attorney David Plevan. Together, they went to work for Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

She filed two cases against City Hall after police put down protests outside a presidential inauguration, the first when she was accused of invasion after she was photographed holding a protest sign while standing in front of a limousine used by the leader of a demonstration and the second when police used a baton to beat a female protester.

She was a member of the board of The New York Law Journal, which organized a tribute to her earlier this year.

A private service is scheduled for Tuesday.

Leave a Comment