“I Love Your Shoes!”
By Laura Bartels
At the CaliforniaState Bar Annual Convention on Oct. 12, Leslie McAdam received the highest honor of our state’s pro-bono recognitions, The State Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Award for her efforts at Fillmore’s Santa Clara Valley Legal Aid. In 2011 Leslie enthusiastically volunteered more than 200 hours to provide local families access to justice.
Four days after the rent is due, thugs arrive at 6 A.M. to kick tenants out. As they pull every piece of furniture out to the sidewalk and dump out drawers of clothes, boxes of toys and piles of kitchen utensils, the mom-tenant silently watches with tears flowing down her cheeks at the sight of a tipped gallon of milk running into the gutter. The deflated woman waits on the curb of Legal Aid, wrapped in a blanket and balanced on boxes of the only things she has left in life.
“Let me help you,” says Leslie, embracing the woman. No one had ever said that to her before. Leslie offers a gift of hope and care.
Leslie gave hope to a family who lost their home.
Knowing he really wanted “The American Dream” of home ownership, a pushy broker, ignores negligible income and insists the first-time buyer can qualify for a loan. Not speaking English and feeling obligated to provide this opportunity to this family, the man is perfectly able to make his initial loan payments until the loan “adjusts” from $1,500 per month to more than $6,000 per month. Still trying to hold the dream together, he pulls cash advances from credit cards to make monthly payments. Unable to make ends meet, the family loses the house and files for Chapter 7 protection for their credit cards. Big Bank Lender challenges anti-deficiency protection.
Now he has to defend himself against Big Bank in bankruptcy court. Leslie agreed to help him. Never having set foot in bankruptcy court in her life, she learned the bankruptcy rules, procedures and a myriad of complex peculiarities to bankruptcy litigation. Buried by volumes of documentation on Big Bank, Leslie found that when Big Bank acquired buyer’s loan, missing from the voluminous “robo signed” MERS mortgage documents was any assumption of the tort. Big Bank actually has no right to the tort action. Leslie has moved this buyer’s path from fate to hope.
Working with legal aid clients is not always about egregious violations of the law. More often it is small touches of reassurance, opportunity and hope. Sometimes it is helping a 90-year-old woman fill out a life insurance form so she has peace of mind that her funeral expenses will be covered; it’s about drawing pictures with the little children who patiently wait while their mother gets information about child support; it’s about telling the 13-year-old who is translating for his dad that he has a real gift of language and that he should consider being an attorney when he grows up. It’s about the humanity, honor, and compassion coupled with the knowledge, experience and tools of the law that Leslie gives to people’s lives.
When people are scared and have lost their home or their children or their job, Leslie is there. From her years of service she knows that she gives of her time, her legal knowledge and herself. But there is nothing more valuable to a person who is suffering than knowing that a person who doesn’t know them at all, who’s just a member of their community, cares.
Leslie’s accomplishments were recognized in the Daily Journal, the California Bar Journal, the Ventura County Star and many others. The highlight for her was not meeting the Chief Justice or winning ribbons for both her paintings in the State Bar art show, or having her entire family with her for a lovely celebration. The unforgettable moment was Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who sat facing Leslie’s chair telling her how much she loved her shoes!
Congratulations, Leslie McAdam, lawyer, writer, and painter.
Leslie lives in an elegant Craftsman home on a small orange tree farm in Bardsdale with her husband Tom and children Joseph, six, and Fiona, four. Leslie is a partner with Ferguson Case Orr Paterson LLP, where she is a civil litigator and employment lawyer. Oh, and Nice Shoes.
Laura Bartels is the current Secretary- Treasurer of the Bar Association with a practice in Santa Paula.