“In their own words” is a series of firsthand accounts, experiences, and stories from Legal Aid Society of Orange County attorneys, staff, and volunteers who provide free legal aid services to our community’s most vulnerable populations. This series is aimed at showcasing not only the impact these services have on the clients they serve, but also the profound impact these cases and clients have on them professionally and personally.
Hadar Zemah, a Staff Attorney in our Compton office, shares an unlikely outcome in a challenging housing case:
This case came to us through a case worker who pleaded with us to help her client fight against being evicted. The client, who is wheelchair bound and grapples with psychological issues, was being evicted on the grounds that she had too many tenants living in her apartment with her. The client’s primary caregiver, who was also her boyfriend, had recently passed away, so her live-in guests were there to provide her with assistance with everyday essential tasks.
Alton Donatto, one of our experienced and passionate paralegals, brought this case to my attention. He, along with the client’s case worker, strongly advocated for us to fight the eviction. I knew that due to the client’s physical and mental disabilities, it would be extremely difficult for the client to stand trial alone, so we had to fight for her.
Leading up to the court date, the client was extremely anxious and worried. She was fixated on the fear of becoming homeless. Who would care for her? She asked. What will happen to me if I become homeless? She wondered. The client’s stress was only exacerbated by her grief over the death of her boyfriend. She felt like the entire world was crashing down on her. The client’s case worker expressed a considerable amount of concern with her wellbeing.
I represented the client at court and was able to negotiate a deal with no rent, no fees, and two months to move out, which is generally unheard of. The client and her case worker were ecstatic, yelling ‘girl power!’ throughout the courthouse.
This particular case touched our team in many ways. Alton developed a personal connection with the client, who called frequently, and was happy to play a role in the positive outcome – especially given her disability. I was stoked to have a major success in a housing case, as this is a relatively new area of law for me, having primarily practiced family law up until this point. This was certainly a win-win-win situation for all!