An Unusual Landlord Tenant Dispute for a Legal Aid Attorney

An Unusual Landlord Tenant Dispute for a Legal Aid Attorney      

(click to zoom photo on left--Dan and Joan with baby Aleksey--both march pics from Howard Watkins, Hastings classmate and Fresno Lawyer and photographer.)

We had camped out every night since leaving Alaska as we meandered south where the weather became more comfortable in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. Finally, at Berkeley I paid off the storage bill for my Stingray and Joan drove it while I maneuvered the yellow submarine all night to Bakersfield. When we arrived, we were overcome by the sights inside a local market that was stocked with fresh vegetables, fruit, milk, eggs, and meats, all reasonably priced.

The first two nights we spent with Tom Soble, an experienced Legal Aid attorney. He and I threw spirals with his football in the alley and shot baskets under the street lights until covered with sweat. The next day I located a two-bedroom, two-bath home for $90 a month. Lemucci’s restaurant and bar was a stone’s throw away. It had a good happy hour, a pin ball machine, atmosphere, and fine food. It was owned by liberal democrat and lawyer.

Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance office had a decent library, an office for each lawyer, and a desk outside for each secretary. The director introduced me to the staff and said, “We are glad to have an Annapolis grad on the staff, who served in the Navy, joined the Peace Movement, and earned a Reggie Fellowship.”

“Tell me about the cases you are litigating,” I asked because my desire was to be involved in law reform, civil rights, and consumer protection as I had been recently taught at Howard University Law School by Drew Days, a well-known civil rights lawyer.

“We do landlord-tenant, debt collection, and an occasional consumer rights case. They are listed on the bulletin board.”

“No civil rights or law reform cases?”I said after perusing the list.

“We aren’t permitted to bring any civil rights cases for damages because Governor Reagan believes that interferes with local attorneys. We occasionally challenge corporations or the government. We meet every day to discuss our cases and will enjoy your input.”

Tom Sobel and I became quick friends. He was an experienced lawyer from New York, a sports lover, and invited me to quarterback GBLA’s flag football team that played legal aid offices and local law firms.

Gerry Gress lived close by with his lively Italian wife, Judy. He resembled a Viking with blonde hair, full beard, and muscular frame. Gerry maintained a peaceful demeanor regardless of stress. Short and husky Stuart Blecher, another New Yorker, had red curly hair, and was brilliant. Rich Fathey, a Harvard grad, was the youngest in the group, a fine athlete, and distinguished lawyer. He was committed to health and environmental concerns.

One of my clients complained her landlord had threatened her with violence when she was late with her rent. “He told me he would take my furniture and throw me and my children on the street.” Her eyes revealed desperation. It was my kind of case, a damsel in distress.

“How far are you behind in rent?”

“I asked for a week’s grace and applied for a loan when my husband abandoned me.”

“Describe the landlord.”

“He’s a mad gorilla who frightens me at 6’ 6” and 250 pounds.”

Reaching for a telephone, I dialed his number. “Hello, sir. My name is Dan Lavery from Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance,” I said. “Your tenant needs a brief grace period to pay her rent.”

“Absolutely not! I want her out today or I’ll kick her ass out.”

“I understand your frustration with late rent. Her husband left her and she’s getting a loan.”

“She breached the lease and has to go.”

“She needs my help to intervene and try to solve this problem if I can.”

“I ain’t afraid of no lawyer. I’ll kick your ass, too.”

“You don’t intimidate me. Will you discuss this matter with me at your house?”

“Yeahsure! That’s good. No one comes here to discuss my tenants.” Sarcasm dripped from the phone.

“I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

“This’ll be fun. You better bring a gang with you. I’m in no mood for lawyers.”

“I’ll be alone.”

At his home I walked across a well-cut lawn on a cement pathway to his single story brown house with asphalt shingle roof, up three steps to his door, and knocked. The door swung open. Standing before me was a scraggly beard in a red and black flannel shirt. His head was five inches above mine. He outweighed me by sixty pounds, had an angry expression, pursed lips, and filled the entrance.

“Are you the lawyer?”

“Yes.” An odor of alcohol reeked from his breath and his eyes were bloodshot. “Let’s have a friendly discussion,” I said opening the door, smiling, and looking up to the hulk.

“I can’t believe you’re here. Aren’t you afraid I’ll hurt you?”

“I’m not afraid, know how to handle myself, and if you want to get physical both of us may end up injured.”

All the time he eyed me like a wild animal. He seemed about to strike out at any minute. “I could tear you apart,” he said with wrinkled brow and a mean look.

“The military taught me hand to hand combat and survival training. I’ve tackled a few your size on the football field.”

Eyeing me differently, he took a step back and seemed impressed by what he heard. “OK. But I’m pissed at your client,” he bellowed.

He led me to his dining room with crystal chandelier over an oak table for six, and a large bay window where pine trees, a garden, and a pond meandered. A large clock rang out chimes for noon. A photo of him in an Army uniform with medals over his pocket stood on a ledge. The giant pulled a high back oak chair from a polished oak table. “Have a seat,” he said. I sat down and spread out my file while he looked down on me across the table.

“My client will agree to move out in two days.”

“No way,” he grunted looking down at me like an angry ape from a tree.

“If you'd like her to stay as a tenant she'll need a week to get a loan.”

“I don’t want her as a tenant.”

“If you promise not to interfere, I‘ll have her collect her things and move out after she cleans the place. We’ll settle the rent and security deposit at my office.”

“How much are you going ‘ta charge?”


He gave an inquisitive look, scratched his beard, and held out his hand. I clasped it with a strong grip and noticed a sparkle in his eye. Once he knew he wasn’t going to have to pay any fees, and knew I’d spent time in the military, he said, “You’re all right, Mr. Lavery”

“I’d hoped we could resolve this.”

My client came in to sign the settlement agreement the next day that gave her two weeks to move. "What on earth did you do to change the beast?"she asked with a mile-wide smile.

"I had good teachers."

“Thank you so much Mr. Lavery,” she said as her voiced cracked and her eyes filled with tears, “You solved an impossible case and are an angel that crossed my path just in time.”

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Romping with Birches and their Music


The resilience of Birches

How they buckle, contort, and curve

So different from their companions.

Thoughts turn to childhood when I could

Manipulate them pushing or

Pulling their branches in the wind

With brother after strong snowfall

Or rain storm, when the breeze explodes

Making them sing like instruments

In Nature’s chamber orchestra

Playing haphazard symphonies.


When Sun’s swelter melts icy frost,

A musical chance offering

Percussive bursts crashing branches

Through supple arms as if wildwood

Fairies dropped rare glass chalices

Composing unique tones, rhythms,

And unsynchronized harmony

Unheard by city residents.


When summer arrives we return

To our Birch playground leaping up

And pulling the wood nymphs tresses

To Earth while their leaves, like nightgowns

Circle the warm soil that cushions

Our feet when we cascade to ground.


Every season our Birch comrades

Entertain us with euphony.

Companions relish joyful mirth

Frolicking with our forest friends.


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Plebe Summer Rifle Range and Baseball

Rifle range was a unique experience. We checked out an M-1 rifle from the armory, and got into the formation. On our first day for rifle range, one of the second classman in charge of another platoon walked up to us, “Mr. Lindenstruth can’t attend today so I’ll take charge of both platoons,” he barked. He showed off his particular penchant for harassment by making plebes run with their rifle at high port. We held the rifle over our head with both arms extended to the fullest in an awkward position given the weight of the rifle, and ran to some designated location.

He came up to me and two other plebes from my platoon, “You three plebes run over to that light pole at high port and count the number of flies on it, come back and report that number to me. Don’t speak to each other, shitheads. You better all agree.” The pole stood one hundred and fifty yards away at the end of the parade field. I ran as fast as I could at high port.

Feeling exhausted by the time I returned the first back and I reported, “ No flies were on the pole, sir.” The others reported the same shortly. Each of us had difficulty trying to catch our breath and sweat covered our faces in the humid heat. The drill as pure hazing that demonstrated some upper classmen relished their power to force plebes to do meaningless tasks. My brother warned, “A number of cruel people received appointments to Annapolis. As a plebe try to avoid them whenever possible.”

When the time came to go to the rifle range, we ran in formation to the landing area near amphibious landing craft and waited for the Marines who ran the rifle range. The craft plowed the waves to the rifle range on the other side of the Severne River spewing gas fumes. We assembled under a tree out of the blazing sun where a number of Marines had broken down their rifles open for inspection. They named each part and how much their rifle meant to them.

They told us in short staccato sentences with stone facial expressions, “Respect the power of the rifle to protect everyone in combat. The rifle can save your life and your buddies. Once loaded never leave your rifle alone. Treat your rifle like a part of your body. Respect it. Love it.”

One of them stood up, “This is my rifle. This is my gun, pointing to his crotch. This is for fighting, holding his rifle high, and this is for fun, pointing again to his crotch. Don’t ever use the wrong terms around a Marine. Got that?”

They directed us to the rifle range where we ran with our rifles at high port. Once at the rifle range they gave us a safety lecture, discussed of the range rules, and assigned  us to a target we lined up behind. As the first row of midshipmen took their place, a Marine stood alongside to place the midshipman in the right position for firing the rifle. We waited for the loudspeaker, “All ready on the left. All ready on the right. All ready on the firing line.”

Our targets popped up. The Marine assigned to us had a pair of binoculars to read how well we did during the target practice. The Marine in charge shouted when everyone had his rifle loaded and pointed at the target, “Commence firing on the firing line.”The deafening began.

When the rifle firing concluded, our Marine read our scores.  We left and another plebe unit took our place.  The Marines joked with us and warned, “If you missed the target you’ll see Maggie’s drawers.” A Marine hoisted a wooden stake with a bright red pair of underpants hung to it in front of a target to show you “sucked” at target practice. Once the rifle firing started, the Marines acted lively, dedicated, and disciplined. They expected us to act the same way. I tried my best to look like a professional despite the fact I had no experience and probably looked as green as the grass on the parade field.


A pleasant surprise occurred after all the discipline and regimentation I had experienced when at one of the first the lunch meal announcements the following words came over the loudspeaker: “All plebes interested in playing baseball, assemble at the boathouse at 1500 hours (3:00 P.M.). A map showed me exactly where the field stood. It required a walk of a little more than a mile across the yard (campus) beyond a bridge that crossed the Severne River where the Navy crew team raced. When the time came, I saw the boathouse on the other side of the bridge with a number of plebes on their way to summer baseball practice. Upon my arrival, the coaches and their assistants handed out equipment until they selected the team.

Directing us to the grand stands of the varsity field three naval officers divided us into three groups. Athletic head coach, Lieutenant Pastelaniak, a tall muscular man, bellowed, “Those baseball players who earned three or more varsity letters in baseball stay on the varsity field with me.”

Since I had earned four, I stayed on the varsity field. Those with two went to the upper field surrounded by a fence in left field and the stands from the varsity field in centerfield with assistant coach, Lieutenant Murphy. Those with one or less ran to the practice field across from the varsity field with another assistant. Our coaches,  active naval officers, gave the finest example the Navy had to offer in coaching. They made Plebe baseball a breath of fresh air from the stale rigors we had encountered during Plebe Summer.

On the first day, Coach Pastelaniak told those of us who assembled on the varsity field, “Go to your favorite position.” I ran to center field and saw three other players standing at each position, knowing only one could start on a twenty-five man roster. The pitchers went to a separate area to warm up with a few catchers. Other catchers remained on our field for fielding practice. We took turns at our position in a well-organized fielding practice that revealed our relative skills. After thirty minutes a few players joined us who had earned two varsity letters.

An hour of batting practice helped the head coach judge our batting skill. Excellent baseball players appeared at every position. I had a good batting practice driving a few balls that had home run written all over them, was excited, and loved every minute. When we finished we took a lap around the field before showering.

Each day for a week we practiced until the coaches selected twenty-five players. When they handed me a uniform for a locker with my name on it I was thrilled. We played fifteen games against baseball clubs from Maryland who traveled to the Academy where we were undefeated. None of our coaches belittled, or screamed at, any player. Summer baseball allowed me to relax, have fun, and excel in a sport I loved and made me confident when everything else about Plebe Summer was a frantic rat-race.

Baseball, PT, sailing, and YP’s occurred outdoors in Annapolis surroundings where the multicolored trees, landscape, colonial atmosphere, and Severne River charged the senses. In contrast, Bancroft Hall would soon transform into Hell when the upper classmen returned from summer duties and descended on us like a herd of lions to a flock of sheep.


In the greater world, away from spit-shined shoes, uniforms, and mechanical maneuvers, civil rights protests caught the attention of people who saw value in fighting against racial discrimination. Many people of conscience protested against the threat of nuclear warfare and the possible end of civilization if we entered into such a massive conflagration with our communist enemies. Suppressing these thoughts, I absorbed and accepted the daily message: The armed forces of the United States must be the most powerful military in the world to preserve our democracy and freedoms. Our military was destined to police the world and oppose evil challengers everywhere. I was on the side of liberty and freedom.

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