May 21, 2017

You Fought For Me

Mr. Elliot, (not his real name**) sat before me in my legal aid office with his 4 year old granddaughter squirming on his lap. He lived in public housing with two grandchildren. That meant that the city owned the building in which he lived and set the rules. And one of the rules was that no one -- not the tenant or his or her guests - could possess a gun on the premises. In exchange, Mr. Elliot got to live in an apartment he could afford. It wasn't grand or particularly nice, but it was all he had.

Mr. Elliot came to me with one of the worst problems a client could have. He and his grandchildren were being evicted. One of Mr. Elliot's kids, who didn't live in the apartment, showed up with a gun and, for reasons I still don't understand, shot it out the window. This eviction would be devastating. If he got evicted, Mr. Elliot likely would end up on the streets, with his grandkids in foster care.

Mr. Elliot was a sweet guy, in his late sixties, suffering from the typical ailments that a low-income older man suffered from -- heart issues, diabetes, a few missing teeth. He handed me a piece of paper notifying him of a court date to decide his eviction. It was (of course) the next day.

I looked at the notice. "Did you get any other papers?"

Mr. Elliot shrugged his shoulders. "I don't read so good. I'm not sure."

I responded, "You realize that once the Judge rules, you and your granddaughters will have to move out?"

"Can't you do anything?"

"Probably not. But, let me think. I'll call the other side's lawyer, and see if I can get an extension. In any event. show up at court tomorrow at 9. Don't be late."

I put a call into the city attorney, hoping to stop the eviction with this sad story, but didn't hear back.

At Court the next morning, the city attorney wasn't interested in negotiating with me. When the hearing started, he went first. A police officer testified that my client's son discharged a weapon inside the apartment. Since I knew it was true, I didn't challenge it. Then the apartment manager testified. I cross-examined him and asked about the required notices.

Well, well, well, it turned out that the manager had not provided my client with any of the required notices. This is what lay people call a "technicality." This is what lawyers call a home run, due process, or whatever you want to call fairness.

I moved that the Judge dismiss the city's petition for eviction for failure to provide the required notices. Spirited debate ensued. The city had screwed up and everyone knew it, but the Judge let it go on for a few minutes. Finally, the Judge dismissed the petition. Mr. Elliott and his grandchildren had won. The city would have to provide the required notices and start the eviction process over. I had bought him some time to find a place for him and the girls.

When we got out on the street, I reminded Mr. Elliott that he needed to find a new place to live and fast. He indicated he understood. As I started to walk away, he turned to me and said some words I've never forgotten:

"Miss Jones (I guess he never quite got my name), I know I have to move. And I have nowhere to go. I don't know what is going to happen. But, you fought for me. You stood up for me. You had your finger in the air, waving it around, and you were arguing just for me. No one has ever stood up for me."

Imagine a life so hard that the only person whose ever been on your side is your legal aid lawyer. I watched him walk away, with a little pep in his step, and wondered where he and the girls would end up.

I never heard from him again.

It's been about 30 years since I saw Mr. Elliot, but I thought of him the other day. I've been in the hospital trying out a new drug. It was Dr. T's idea to give it a shot. He contacted me to say he had an idea. How often does that happen? I have too many cardiologists to deal with and feel like this is the only one who is really on my side -- who cares and gets me and my anxieties. So, I told him. "You are fighting for me. No matter what happens I'll never forget that you cared enough to try."

I don't know the ending to this story, but I know what Mr. Elliot was feeling that day. And it's enough for today.

** a few changes were made to protect identity


  1. girl, you can write. best of luck on your health

  2. Beautiful, Joan. All of us need someone to fight for us when it matters. Glad you have someone fighting for you.

  3. To make a positive difference in someone's life is the greatest gift we can give.

  4. Joan, what a wonderful, inspiring post. Your post is truly a great reminder that everyone we meet have their own battle and that we need to treat everyone as a person. Thank you for sharing your story.

  5. love this and love you, aunt Joan.

  6. Glad you have a Dt. T in your life!

  7. what a beautiful story, Joan - i had a tear in my eye - probably because i have to have all these people caring for me these days - depending on others is hard and you are so fortunate to have Dr. T. in your corner fighting for you - pray that his idea is successful!

  8. J.B. what a fabulous read.
    We're all in your corner, fighting for you, with hope, and positive energy...

  9. I admire your gift with the pen! I'm glad you found a DR. that will fight for you. Praying all continues to go well. Hugs!

  10. Wow. Amazing read, Joan! Touched my heart - and God bless you and Dr. T for caring and fighting. Because you are one special lady. And I would like to think Mr. Elliott ended up being ok. The fight will be worth it!

  11. Your story makes me thankful for my good fortune, and your compassion for Mr. Elliot allows you to make this comparison. We're all in this together. Thank goodness for you and Dr. T.

  12. What an incredible story. Thanks for sharing it with us. I hope this new drug helps you and that Dr T continues to fight on your side. Hugs. XXX

  13. You moved me to tears. My prayers are with you.

  14. Swallowing the lump in my throat. Thinking of you. Thank you for sharing this poignant story applicable to life on so many levels...take care xx

  15. What an inspiring and moving story. I hope that the new medication works out well for you.

  16. Thank you for sharing the story. How are you doing?

    1. Hi Glorie. The new medication appears to be working pretty well!! I will be deciding on whether to go through with the surgery in the next couple of weeks. Thanks for asking.

  17. He would never have forgotten you and what you did for him. Its so important to be remembered for the good things you do for others and for you to remember what it mean't to them too. Beautiful story!!

  18. It is heartwarming to know that what seems small or inconsequential to one is so big to another. TY for sharing. Hope your new Ned's work out for you.


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