In March 2015, I had been mostly retired from my trial practice for several years and was focused on completing my memoir, In The Game, about my life as a solo practitioner lawyer and single mother starting out in the 1970s. I had cleaned up my act and was also teaching yoga and meditation, making peace instead of war. Although I still daydreamed about trying cases, I had no intention of rejoining the litigation battle. Then one day I was suddenly back in the game on the side of the angels, a real one.
Reverend Tooks is a spiritual counselor and reader I have known for twenty years. Her spirituality is bible–based but non-denominational and people of all faiths and no faith have lined up for years to sit with her in her little office full of iconic figures from every faith tradition.
She and her husband, an African American couple in their late eighties, have lived in a dilapidated little house in South Central Los Angeles for forty years. They’ve been in temporary housing paid for by their insurance company, since an electrical fire in the ceiling of their home seven months earlier. Within 24 hours of the fire, a fire and restoration company swooped in, bamboozled Mr. Tooks into signing a contract, and then moved the Tooks out of their home and into temporary housing. The same day a truck and crew hauled away everything in the house, including the family safe.
Reverend Tooks had now been displaced for months from her home, the sacred space in which she prays, meditates, and counsels people. Her bible and sacred artifacts were boxed up and whisked away with everything else, including her diabetic supplies.
When I speak with her by phone, Reverend Tooks says, “I want to go home.”–Her voice trails off and she sounds lost. I am alarmed at the despondence I hear in her voice and I want to help her. I have known her to be there for anyone in need and met her when she was helping a client of mine. Now she needs me, something I only learn indirectly because she would never presume to ask me for help
I learn that although their insurance company has paid out nearly $200,000.00 on the policy to third parties, no repair work whatever has been done, their house is trashed, and they now face becoming homeless. The whole house could have been rebuilt for that sum. The insurance company informed them that insurance is no longer going to pay for temporary housing, and they have nowhere to go. I suspect a fraudulent scheme to steal the insurance proceeds, and then to steal their house. It looks like financial elder abuse targeting elderly African Americans in older neighborhoods.
Reverend Tooks and her husband and I meet up at the little corner house on West 50th Street. After I explain what I think the legal case is and how I might be able to help them, Reverend Tooks, who has followed my legal career, whispers, “It’s like the old days, isn’t it, Peggy?”
She’s right: I’m already fantasizing about picking a jury and putting on the case. “Did you have to go this far to get me back into court?” I joke. I cannot believe I am about to venture… back into the game.
“I wanted my house fixed up but I didn’t know it would happen this way,” she says softly. As a sly smile breaks across her face she asks, “Do you think I can have a pretty kitchen and a purple carpet?”
She is sending me into combat.
I file Reverend Tooks’ case the following week and drop in to the offices of the scalawags behind this scheme, and serve them. They turn over the checks they have not yet cashed and agree to talk settlement. A few months later Reverend Tooks and her husband move back into the little house in South Central LA, now with a pretty kitchen and purple wall-to-wall carpet.
“I could get used to this again,” I said to myself, as I realized how crucial my help was to these two people who were easy targets for unscrupulous scammers. Two more cases were about to land on my desk and I was truly back in the game.