Washington Horror Blog

SEMI-FICTIONAL CHRONICLE of the EVIL THAT INFECTS WASHINGTON, D.C. To read Prologue and Character Guide, please see www.washingtonhorrorblog.com, updated 6/6//2017. Follow Washington Water Woman on Twitter @HorrorDC ....

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Ground Beneath Our Feet

Judge Sowell Lame was in his chamber reading the memorandum his law clerk had written about the Interim Attorney General's lawsuits against over a dozen landlords in D.C. Apparently this Peter Nickless fellow was some kind of a crusader --he actually used words like "slumlord" and "justice" when he talked to the press. The man was even appearing as a featured guest at the next meeting of the Tenants Advocacy Coalition. Lame finished reading the memo, swallowed some more coffee, and pulled out his already highlighted copy of the recent Washington Post article on the failure of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to use a designated fund for the repair of problem properties. "From fiscal 2005 to 2007, DCRA had about $16.5 million in its repair fund." "But only a fraction of the fund has gone to decrepit apartment buildings, even as tenants across the city have reported dangerous conditions. In the past three years, the city has spent nearly three times more on repairs for single-family houses than for apartments." He flipped back to the part about how many citations had been issued by inspectors. Lame had not been in D.C. long, but he had been warned that DCRA was already undergoing its second major shake-up in four years. Apparently this Nickless fellow did not want to wait for the bureaucratic revolution. Lame couldn't stand it when lawyers tried to make judges do the things that politicians lacked the courage to--and this was a lawyer who did not even want to wait on his own administration to act! Half of Lame's civil docket could be summed up in a few words: tenants refusing to pay rent to "slumlords" and landlords refusing to make repairs for "deadbeats". Lame was sick to death of it. He stuffed the memo and the article into the jacket of the filing and shoved it all into his purple drawer--purple for "pending"; he would not do anything until every single defendant filed an answer, and he was not going to enforce any deadlines for that. Still.... He was starting to hear whispers and rumors that his court schedule seemed a lot lighter than most of the judges--he knew he needed to schedule more hearings. Outside his window, a catbird alit on the windowsill and began imitating the chirps of the migrating blue jays. Lame reached into his yellow drawer--yellow for "yucky"--and randomly pulled out five jackets. Top of the pile: that vexing pro bono case filed by Laura Moreno.

Downstairs, another crusader was filing a lawsuit of his own--a class action claiming that hundreds of Adams Morgan tenants had been cheated out of their right to purchase their rental units under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act. Two months later, the baffled grandmother of Angela de la Paz would be asking a pro bono attorney what was going on in her apartment building as her neighbors descended into an assortment of squabbling factions screaming for their share of the real estate wealth they had been entitled to, unable to provide a united front against the landlord. Twelve years from now, the entire building would be razed and the plot labeled a hazardous waste site; seventeen years from now, twenty percent of today's residents would be dead from cancer.

A couple of miles west, Laura Moreno was in a Prince and Prowling conference room organizing witness binders for a trial that would never happen because it was all an elaborate game of bluffs and poker bids. She was redoing the index again because Chloe Cleavage had again changed her mind about how to organize things. Laura could hear the familiar screech of "Wince" emanating from Bridezilla's nearby office, but the rest of the telephone conversation was new to Laura: apparently Bridezilla was still not a member of the D.C. Bar! "It's my secretary's fault!!!", Bridezilla was hissing into the phone. "We're going to have to postpone the wedding!" This would be the third postponement, though Laura thought it was only the second. A minute later, Bridezilla's voice was even louder: "I want the newspaper announcement to say "D.C. attorney"!!!" A few minutes later, Bridezilla was cutting through the conference room on wobbly high heels, stopping only momentarily to glower at Laura for putting so many boxes in her path. Laura (who had been a member of the D.C. Bar for several years now) went back to the workroom to print out new labels; Bridezilla headed to court with a senior partner for the sole purpose of wearing another court-appearance red dress in front of Judge "Leer" as he heard the Prince and Prowling oral argument for summary judgment in defense of a land owner sued for dumping dry cleaning solvent and refrigeration PCBs into a Mount Pleasant creek a couple miles north of Adams Morgan.

A few miles north, Button Samuelson was at an outdoor cafe having lunch with her downstairs neighbor. Button thought this was about the noise from her new power yoga workout, but her neighbor handed Button a thick file. "What's this?", Button asked in surprise. She got a mumble in response and proceeded to open up the file, which consisted of three photocopied pleadings. Ten minutes later, Button understood: the condo association had sued three former members of the board for gross negligence and breach of fiduciary duty, those three unit owners had counter-sued the condominium association (along with the current board members added as individual defendants) for misappropriation of condo association dues, and a class action had been filed on behalf of all owners who had purchased since 2003 under "fradulently inflated" prices and "deliberately misleading" subprime terms. The chickens have come home to roost. Button suddenly recalled her father saying that frequently....He never explained where the chickens had been before. "What are you going to do?", Button asked her downstairs neighbor, who, in turn, arched her eyebrows at Button--who was, after all, a real estate agent. Button had probably seen a billion dollars worth of real estate change hands in the last four years, but she let the real estate attorneys worry about stuff like that. With a sinking feeling, Button realized that their fees were going to have to go way up to cover the condo association litigation costs, and if she sold out now, she would probably lose $150,000 on her investment. And she had no idea what to tell her downstairs neighbor. A flock of starlings inched their way closer to Button's table, but the two ladies had failed to drop any crumbs on the ground, so the birds moved on--all except for one, who suddenly pecked Button sharply on her ankle. Button cried out in surprise and kicked the bird away, as a few drops of blood began escaping her skin on their way to soaking into the aquifer draining into Rock Creek and the Potomac.

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