Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Can Your Lawyer do This?

August 12, 2008

Not only did I have my day in court this week, but I also found out I have the world's most talented lawyer.

My court date in Howard County District Court, Ellicott City, Maryland, was yesterday.

It was the day previous to that when I actually met my lawyer in person for the first time. (I'll just call him "Mike.") Prior to that, we'd handled my entire case via phone, fax, and email.

I was the plaintiff in a landlord-tenant dispute. Essentially, when I took the job in NYC last October, I'd signed a lease with a tenant who was due to move into my Ellicott City townhouse on November 3rd. I didn't want to rent my immaculate townhouse out to a stranger, but the sales market had tanked, and the place wasn't selling. It was either rent it or try to sustain the hefty mortgage simultaneously with an exorbitant Manhattan rent in hopes the place would sell for a loss I could live with. I was over a barrell - I opted for Door Number One and signed the lease just six days before I moved to Manhattan.

Well, by November 3rd my tenant still hadn't come up with the rent. I didn't let her move in until she came up with the cash she owed me (which also consisted of the remainder of the security deposit). Oddly enough, this pissed her off and so, on November 7, she decided that because this appeared to be the start of a "long and unpleasant business relationship" she had "changed her mind" about our lease.

She was in breach of contract; I sued.

Of course, this all became very expensive and time-consuming. I compiled documents, wrote letters, took multiple trips to the post office to get letters certified, sent emails, researched MD code of law, called the attorney general, tried to re-rent the place, had to move items out (from afar) that my tenant had agreed to buy, consulted various attorneys and property management firms, created spreadsheets, etc.

Not to mention, I paid my attorney, I paid court filing fees, I paid utilities while the place was empty, I paid a management company a stiff fee to find a new tenant, etc. All in all, this cost me a bundle in time and money.

I did everything possible to mitigate her damages. (Yes, this was all while I was unpacking and starting my new, stressful Wall Street job, and enduring the death of my beloved cat, etc. Aaaargh.) The tenant, however, was unresponsive to my pleadings.

To make a long story short, we tried to settle out of court and even came to an agreement that she'd pay me less than one-third of damages she'd incurred. She was supposed to send some of that money by July 15 but (once again) didn't pay. So Mike and I said "screw this" and proceeded to the trial date of 8/11.

Hence, on Sunday I needed to meet with my attorney in order to prepare for Monday's court date. I took the train from NY Penn Station to BWI at Baltimore and rented a car. I went straight to Mike's office. I'd never met him face-to-face before, but I felt as if I'd known him for years. I walked right into his office. He didn't look anything like what I expected. Because his voice sounded so much like that of my old attorney in Washington state, I guess in the back of my mind I had always pictured someone like my previous attorney.

Mike was a hoot. After we got through our case preparation he pulled out this huge bag of balloons, and suddenly I saw the other side of my attorney - the side that went with that friendly and humorous voice I had come to know so well. Come to find out, he's quite the artist. He proceeded to create the balloon animal of my choice. I, of course, picked a black cat. Then he showed me how to make a swan. (OK, so my swan sucks, but these things take practice!) When I showed up at my friend Rashmi's doorstep later that evening holding out two balloon animals, the look on her face was priceless - she just laughed with a look that said, "What in the heck are you doing now, Susie?"

So how many people can say that their attorney makes balloon animals? Not only that - he juggles too! And if you go down to the Baltimore Inner Harbor on a nice weekend day, you just might see him engaged in these activities, entertaining the crowd.

Now that is a multi-talented attorney. What a great guy. Usually a law suit is a pretty stressful event. And I've had enough stressful events lately that this one very well could have put me away for life. But Mike managed to make it fun (you know, as 'fun' as a law suit can be). And that makes his services worth every penny I paid.

To top that off, he won my case. I was ecstatic and smiled all the way home on the train yesterday! We got not only the full judgment against the defendant, but another $49.46 that neither of us can figure out. Not sure where the judge came up with the number, but I'm not complaining.

Don't get me wrong. The real work for me isn't over. I've won the judgment; now it's up to me to collect. You've heard the phrase, "Can't get blood from a turnip . . . " Well, I'm about to set out to do just that - after the 10-day post-trial waiting period.