Our Stories

Retreat Yourself

Retreat Yourself

by Haley B. Brown (Center for Justice Legal Intern/Women Leading With Purpose Retreat Attendee ‘16)

As I drove up to Coeur D’Alene with two of my classmates for a weekend away from law school, I started to panic. We all started to panic.

“Did you get all of your reading done for next week?”

“I already feel behind not spending my weekend at the library”

“How will I be able to get ahead of my reading schedule now?”

“I’m too busy to be here.”

But, as we forced ourselves to chat about things outside the realm of law school over sour gummy candy, with the view of CDA Lake fast approaching, that panic began to melt away.

The Women Leading with Purpose Retreat is an annual event run through the Center for Justice for female law students at Gonzaga University School of Law. The Retreat provides those that decide to attend a weekend away from law school on the beautiful CDA lake, little to no cell service, time for personal reflection, relationship building, and much more.

I had just completed my first semester of law school at Gonzaga when I attended the retreat, and had already convinced myself that it was going to be a lonely, miserable three years. All of my free-time that I once filled with hobbies that enriched my life seemed to vanish. I rarely saw my husband and all of my girlfriends were now states away. (Not to mention, on top of figuring out my first semester of law school I was in the midst of trying to learn how to drive my husband’s car, a manual 5-speed, after we sold my vehicle to save money for school. This was like the least amount of fun I have ever had in my entire life. . . but, I digress.) Law school was all consuming; it consumed all of my time, all of my thoughts and all of my conversations. I didn’t feel like myself and was experiencing more self-doubt that I ever had before. To top it all off, I was convinced I was the only one of my classmates who was experiencing this. Most people seemed like they had it all figured out.

The Retreat taught me that law school doesn’t have to be lonely or miserable. In fact, I learned that I was surrounded by strong, supportive female classmates who had experiences just like mine that will enrich my law school experience and provide me a shoulder to lean on, cry on, or stand on if necessary. But, had it not been for the retreat, I am not sure I would have had the chance (or the courage), to get to know the 11 classmates I spent my weekend with on the deep personal level that I did. Until that time, most conversations I had with these women and all of my other classmates were school related and surface level. I left that weekend more committed to developing deep, personal relationships in school, work and in my personal life.

Additionally, being at the retreat afforded me the time to look inward, reflect and morph back into the person that I was before coming to law school. I left feeling more like myself with a renewed sense of purpose, a louder voice, and a reminder of why I chose to come to law school in the first place. I also left committed to learning how to bake bread, something I had been continually putting off with criminal law reading.

Like all good things, the retreat had to come to an end. As my two classmates and I headed back to the reading, outlines, flashcards, and significant others that awaited our return, not one of us felt panicked. Instead, we felt and continue to feel empowered and driven to be women leading with purpose.

Hurt lingers 10 years after Zehm’s death

By Jeffry Finer / Special to The Spokesman-Review

I remember Otto Zehm.

Working downtown, I would see him from time to time walking, loping really – he walked fast and bounced from step to step – but I never so much as said hello. I did not know he was a musician, or that he had mental illness, that he sometimes heard things the rest of us didn’t. I knew he had the longest golden hair of anyone on the Spokane street scene. And he sang quietly to himself. He smiled but did not seem to want attention. He moved along in his own world. He’d be surprised what his name has come to mean. And how often city leaders and media cite his life and death.

For Spokane, his name evokes strong reactions.

Some see Otto’s death on a personal level. He was beloved by his family (mother, sister and cousins were closest). He was respected and liked at work (at the nonprofit Skils’kin, where he was a janitor). Friends said he was careless with generosity and would give you his only coat if he saw you were cold. Everyone knew him to be gentle.

Most of Spokane, of course, knows about his death in 2006 after two days on life support. We watched local media play and replay his videotaped beating and restraint by a half-dozen local police officers. We know about the City Hall cover-up, the federal criminal case and Officer Karl Thompson’s conviction.

For some of us, the “system worked.” For others, the aftermath of Otto’s death was a system failure that ruined a good cop.

If you voted in February 2013 for Proposition 1, and 70 percent of Spokane voters did, you remember Otto as the poster child for passage of a strongly worded demand for an independent police ombudsman. And unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the office of the ombudsman is in tatters.

Spokane tries to move on.

Officer Thompson has served his time and just this month has been released. The Use of Force Commission met for a year, issued two dozen specific recommendations and dissolved. Some recommendations have taken hold; others, such as changes to Spokane’s “police culture,” have not.

Local civil rights advocates press on – working hard to see that we get the independent ombudsman we overwhelmingly voted for, moving “smart justice” reforms ahead to fix our broken criminal justice system, and pushing the city to hire a new chief of police who is committed to implement the changes our community needs. Other law enforcement issues have come under scrutiny, such as the understaffed jail, its lack of nurses and timely medical services. Just more budget-driven problems facing us and every city and county in America.

Overall? We have yet to heal our relationship with our own peace officers. They have yet to heal their relationship with us.

On the day Officer Thompson was taken into custody, the Friday after the verdict finding him guilty of excessive force and lying in a federal investigation, I sat in the gallery behind Assistant Chief Craig Meidl. He and some four dozen men and women – off-duty police officers sworn to uphold the law – snapped to salute as federal marshals led Officer Thompson away. Otto’s middle-age cousins seated with me were stunned into silence. We looked for help but the court had left and its staff seemed powerless.

In 30 years, I’ve never felt such repressed tension in a courtroom. The marshals, wisely I think, took Thompson away uncuffed and the officers gradually left the courtroom. My apology to the Zehm cousins for the salute brought a cold stare from two officers. At the elevator, another officer blamed the sole reporter present for causing Thompson’s conviction.

It is said that no one should be judged solely by their worst day; and in that sense Officer Thompson’s supporters may have been feeling a conflicted affinity for him. But it remains troubling that the department has failed to account to the public for the embrace by 50 of its officers of a convicted felon. Troubling that there has been no apology and no consequences.

A lot needs doing to restore our faith and trust in our police. Their work requires such trust as surely as we require faithful police. The Center for Justice, where I work with a team of lawyers and community activists, coordinates with citizens, police and local officials to make our city safer and fairer for everyone.

Sometimes the struggle goes on quietly in meetings, or noisily in the media. But a certain spirit of gentleness inspires us at times to keep a memory of Otto Zehm alive. Not only as saber-rattling social change warriors but as neighbors, colleagues, friends and people who remember Otto Zehm.

Center for Justice joins forces with ACLU to Increase Voting Registration Opportunities

Individuals now have a much improved opportunity to register to vote when they sign up for public benefits, thanks to efforts made by the Center for Justice along with the ACLU-WA and the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to improve compliance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).

“Changes made by DSHS have strengthened democracy by enhancing access to voting for thousands of people in Washington state,” said Rick Eichstaedt, executive director of Spokane’s Center for Justice.

“Access to voting is a cornerstone of democracy,” said Nancy Talner, staff attorney for the ACLU-WA. “We are pleased DSHS took swift action to uphold the NVRA, avoiding costly litigation that has occurred in other states.”

Although best known as the “motor voter law,” the NVRA was designed to reduce demographic gaps in voting by making voter registration more accessible in a variety of ways. Among them: requiring states to offer an opportunity to register to vote whenever someone applies for public benefits, renews benefits or submits a change of address to an agency that provides public assistance.

Until recently, DSHS’s Community Services Division had not offered the opportunity to register to vote as often as the law required, and had not consistently recorded and/or reported when the opportunity was offered, despite the fact that the recession prompted more people to seek benefits from the agency.

After the Center for Justice and ACLU-WA raised the issue with DSHS in 2014, the agency agreed to improve its compliance with the NVRA. In fact, DSHS was already in the process of making improvements as the result of an internal audit it had performed earlier that year. Since then, DSHS has ensured 100 percent of staff in its Community Services Division received training on the requirements of the law, and changed its computer system and paper forms so that workers are always reminded to offer a voter registration opportunity, regardless of whether the contact with the client is online, over the phone or in person.

The percentage of DSHS Community Services Division clients who were offered voter registration assistance increased from 29 percent in January 2014 to 92 percent in August 2015. As the newly adopted technology and reporting systems are implemented, officials expect that number to continue to rise.

“The changes made will help increase the number of historically disenfranchised people who are registered to vote,” said Nancy Talner. “Citizens have a right to make their voices heard by registering to vote and voting. We appreciate the state’s efforts to make this right a reality for those who too often have not had a voice in elections.”

“Ensuring that our clients have the opportunity to register to vote lets us assist people with exercising that fundamental right,” said DSHS Assistant Secretary David Stillman. “It’s also an integral part of our agency’s mission to transform lives.”

My Landlord, the Pirate

Veronica* came to the Center in June, 2013, feeling ambushed by her former landlord. Months earlier she had to be hospitalized for treatment of a skin disorder and depression. She was behind on her rent at the time, and no sooner had she gone into the hospital than her landlord initiated eviction proceedings. The eviction included the removal, by the landlord, of all the belongings in Veronica’s apartment.  Unable to pay the rent or contest the eviction, she also agreed to pay $85 for the initial monthly storage fee at the commercial storage warehouse where her belongings were taken.  After being released from the hospital, Veronica visited the storage facility only to find that none of her belongings were there. They had been taken by the landlord and either sold or given away. The Center investigated and concluded that the landlord had violated state law in its handling of Veronica’s possessions. The Center’s intervention resulted in the return of several costly items, including Veronica’s computer and printer. The landlord also agreed to a $1,000 payment to Veronica for the value of the items that could not be recovered.

*Not her real name.

Putting Teeth in a Court’s Judgment

Putting Teeth in a Court’s Judgment

Alice* came to us in July 2013 with half a solution to a very personal and most unusual problem. A year earlier she had been admitted to the emergency room at a local hospital with an infection in her heel. The infection required  emergency surgery. As she was about to be wheeled from her hospital room to surgery, her dentures were routinely taken from. Afterwards, while recovering from her operation, she asked to have her teeth returned. Her request was in vain. Not only had the hospital lost her dentures, but hospital personnel responded to her request with the harsh news that the hospital is not responsible for lost or stolen items. Having gone to the hospital with one health problem, Alice found herself leaving with another health problem, one caused by the hospital. She was without her dentures, and—as certified by a local health clinic—Alice was thus forced to make unhealthy changes to her diet to avoid choking on food that she could no longer properly chew. She finally decided she would take her cause to Small Claims Court.  In March 2013, a judge awarded her payment of an amount of money sufficient to buy a new pair of dentures. But that didn’t solve the problem either because she was unable to collect payment on the judgment from the hospital. She contacted a collection agency, but the fee the agency demanded would have been half the value of the judgment, and still leave Alice unable to purchase new dentures. The Center’s Community Advocacy staff took up the challenge from there and contacted the hospital’s risk management department, alerting them to the court judgment. Within days the hospital agreed to make the payment in the full amount, which enabled Alice to buy a new set of dentures and return to a healthy diet where she can enjoy real food again.

*Not her real name.

Where Jimmie met Grace

Jimmie Martin and Grace Flott each had life-altering tragedies behind them when they came together to fight what seemed only to be a small injustice. But there was a lot more to it than that.

By Tim Connor

If you were within sight and earshot, there would be several first things to notice about Jimmie Martin and Grace Flott as they began their brief reunion last month.

Grace Flott and Jimmie Martin

He’s the older black man in the white polo shirt buttoned all the way to the top. She is the tall and young white woman with the red earrings. But even if your eyes didn’t reach them, it would be hard not to notice the richness of their voices. Grace’s voice is smooth and deep, and travels down hallways and corners with ease, like a sheet of cool air flowing out the bottom of a cave. Jimmie’s voice is soft, by comparison, but rich and nuanced in his inflections, as though he is a trained musician.

Long before he came to Spokane in 1996, before he lost his job, and his home and, for a while, his ability to support himself, Jimmie Martin was a soldier in Vietnam. What happened in Vietnam didn’t stay in Vietnam. It came home with him in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Only Jimmie Martin didn’t know that. He endured a very tough stretch in his life and then, five years ago, purposefully began to rebuild himself.

“I used to take life for granted,” he says. “And some of the things I had to go through, it made me realize that life is much more important, that you have to work hard at what you want.”

Jimmie was well on the way back, but still had a ways to go, when he met the man he describes as his mentor and a dear new friend, Jerry Gutman. This was a year ago.

Gutman is a Vietnam veteran too, having served there in the Army in the mid-1960s. A retired human resources specialist, Gutman and his wife, Bernice, happened to be watching a television program featuring Michele Obama in January of 2011 when the First Lady, appearing with Oprah Winfrey, made a moving appeal in support of returning soldiers and their families. Bernice is a retired psychologist.

“We discussed it,” Gutman says, “and readily agreed that our country owes a great deal to our vets, going all the way back to Vietnam Vets. When I came home from Vietnam, nobody knew from PTSD or TBI [traumatic brain injury]. I encountered my own set of challenges, and, you know, made out the best I could. But in any case, Bernice and I decided that supporting the reintegration of returning vets, coming home from repeated deployments, is something we wanted to do.”

The couple enlisted as volunteers in the Spokane Veterans Forum. The Forum is an adjunct to the Spokane Veterans Court that Judge Vance Peterson (who is now serving in Afghanistan) started in September 2010 as a way to focus on military veterans facing non-violent criminal offenses. The Court’s purpose is to expedite getting troubled vets the counseling and treatment they need, rather than just putting them in jail.  The Forum serves and coordinates the court-required rehabilitation plans for the vets, and convenes regularly at the National Guard’s Readiness Center at Spokane Community College. That’s where Jerry Gutman first noticed Jimmie Martin when Martin was one of half dozen vets in one of the first groups Gutman joined as a counselor.

“Jimmie was sitting in a corner,” Gutman recalls. “He was kind of quiet and I approached him to get acquainted and to see if there was a connection there.”

The two spoke for an hour that day, in early 2011, and very quickly Jerry Gutman became Jimmie Martin’s mentor.

“I used to take life for granted. And some of the things I had to go through, it made me realize that life is much more important, that you have to work hard at what you want.”–Jimmie Martin.

“Long-term PTSD symptoms show up in people years after they leave the military,” Gutman says, “particularly if they haven’t received some support and counseling. In Jimmie’s case he went from having a job, being a supervisor, to being homeless, to being arrested, to having multiple traffic tickets, all kinds of other minor infractions, and these were all symptomatic of the fact that he wasn’t coping well in his life. This is all very typical of what happens to veterans when they come home from a stressful deployment. Whatever triggers it, the symptoms need to be address and treated if they’re going to be relieved. That, in a nutshell, is what was going on in Jimmie’s life, and if you can think of being arrested as a blessing in disguise, in this case it sure was.”

Another person Jimmie Martin met at the Spokane Veterans Forum was Virla Spencer, the outreach coordinator for the Center for Justice. Virla gave Jimmie her card. It wasn’t long before he used it.


“I woke up in a different country.”—Grace Flott


Only by coincidence, the staff at the Center for Justice learned about Virla’s Spencer’s outreach to local veterans at the same meeting, last September, that we learned  Grace Flott would be volunteering with us.

There are a myriad stories of people who come to the Center seeking help, but never a story like this. Here was a young woman, in the wake of a harrowing, near-death experience, seeking us out to help us do our work.

Grace was in Paris last spring, doing her undergraduate studies at Sciences Po, an academy not far from the Eiffel Tower, when someone purposely set fire to the apartment building in which she was living. The fire killed her American roommate and also claimed the life of a fellow student and friend from Australia. After sustaining serious burns on more than half her body, Grace forced herself to jump from the fifth floor of the burning structure. The fall broke an ankle and two vertebrae in her back. She was flown from Paris to Seattle to be hospitalized at Harborview Hospital for her burns and other injuries.

“I think this summer was probably the hardest,” she says. “This year has been the hardest of my life.”

Grace grew up in Spokane where she graduated in 2008 from Ferris High School. Last summer, after being able to leave the hospital in Seattle, she came home to Spokane where, with the support of her family, she could live outside the hospital but continue an intensive physical rehabilitation.

“When I realized that I had to stay here, in Spokane, for my recovery I also needed to look at what I could do so I wouldn’t stir crazy here, while still going through physical therapy,” Grace says. So she asked herself: “How can I make the best of this?”

Before going to France, when she was a student at the University of Washington, Grace was already an activist, having become involved in an organization called United Students Against Sweatshops.

“So, with the Center for Justice being one of the few organizations that does any kind of community advocacy,” she says, “I kind of latched on to it.”

No one was happier about Grace’s decision than Suellen Pritchard. It’s a poorly-kept secret that while CA exists to help some of the neediest in the Spokane community, it is also, under Suellen’s direction, a veritable launching pad for interns and volunteers.

“I was really moved by her story,” Suellen recalls. “Just her ability to come out of that whole ordeal and come to work for us. She crossed huge barriers when she came to work for us.”


“I think I knew, just inherently, that I was at a mental place to be able to step outside myself.”–Grace Flott

And, as fate would have it, the first CFJ client she would be walking with was Jimmie Martin.

“What I did was come in and tell Grace what my problem was,” Jimmie says. “She had this ability to take over and she just took over.”

Well, yes and no.

“I think that I saw the same thing in Jimmie,” Grace says. “The fact that he was so engaged. I think after you go through something like I went through, you can kind of inherently tell when someone is really present and enthusiastic. We can give resources to almost anybody, but ultimately it’s up to the client to see that through.”

Jimmie had come to the Center because, on the way to get his life back, he’d been defrauded by an unscrupulous landlord.

Three years earlier, because he was unable to afford a place on his own, he’d entered into a program run by a local charity. A quid pro quo of the arrangement was that the charity controlled the very modest income Jimmie received.

“They [the charity] were monitoring everything that we were doing,” Jimmie says, “which was okay. But they were a little strict, and the little money I was getting, I wasn’t able to spend the way I wanted.”

By then, he’d met the Spokane man who would be his new landlord, and been offered an apartment in a “raggedy”  building not far from the Spokane County Courthouse.

“It took me six months to get in there,” Jimmie says, “but I took it because it was cheaper” and because it got him out from under the thumb of the charity. By that time, he’d begun to collect Social Security and, now, “I was able to do what I wanted with it, rather than them think I can’t handle my money. That’s what insulted me.”

The new place was, in Jimmie’s words, a “downgrade” from where he’d been living before. But once he got in, he became eligible for a housing subsidy program that, while covering half his rent, also required that Jimmie stay in the apartment for another year, at least until September 1, 2011.

During his time in the building, Jimmie helped the woman who managed the place by shoveling snow, fixing windows,  and doing other maintenance tasks. In return, the landlord’s brother, from Seattle, would send him small checks for the work.

Seeking to recover the $250 damage deposit he’d paid in 2008, Jimmie gave the landlord the required notice that he was moving out. This was in August.

“I knew he had a history of not giving other people their money back,” Jimmie says. “But I just knew I was going to be different because I did all the right things. But I was treated just like I was a nobody and like I didn’t deserve my money back.”

Labor Day came. No refund. Finally, after another two weeks passed, Jimmie went to where the landlord worked in order to confront him directly. The man claimed not to have had time to inspect the apartment, a hollow excuse given Jimmie’s experience with the landlord’s business agent who always seemed very prompt to bother tenants for their rent checks.

Without getting his money, or even a clear commitment that he’d get his deposit back, Jimmie Martin pulled out the card Virla Spencer had given him and made a call on the Center for Justice.

“He made that decision,” Jerry Gutman says with discernible satisfaction. “I don’t make decisions for Jimmie Martin. He decided this landlord wasn’t going to cheat him out of two hundred and fifty bucks.”

What Gutman saw was Jimmie working with Grace Flott and CFJ attorney Julie Schaffer as the two investigated the predicament and helped prepare a course of action to help Jimmie recover his deposit.

Jimmie did not know, at the time, what his new advocate had so recently been through, and the strides that she, herself, was making.

“I would have never thought that you were going through what you were going through, then coming here and taking on my case” Jimmie told Grace when the two came together at the Center in late March. “You never discussed it with me. But I really appreciate that. Just like you said, it takes a lot from a person. A person has to be here in order to help someone out, and I really appreciate that, and that’s what showed up, and that’s why I won because you had enough heart to dedicate yourself to it.”


There’s a bit more to the story, though.

The route to the resolution was through small claims court. There, the rules required Jimmie Martin to present his own case to the judge.

That day came on January 25th, and the person who went to the courthouse with Jimmie was Jerry Gutman.

“I was sitting at his elbow,” Gutman says, “as his mentor, to intervene, to help him out. But he didn’t need any help. He presented the facts very clearly, answered the judge’s questions and got the judgment very quickly.”

By Washington law, the judgment was twice the damage deposit, plus another $39 in fees, for a total of $539.

The legal victory was not without a final indignity.

“Jerry was at my house when the mailman brought the check,” Jimmie says. “He told me to check on the check before I deposited it with my bank. And good thing I did.”

The check bounced.

“So I called Jerry,” Jimmie recalls, “I laughed all the way from the bank, man. Because I wasn’t mad no more. After all we’d gone through, I wasn’t mad. And I was so happy not to be mad, even though the check bounced.”

One way to make sense of his happiness is to view it in light of what had happened, in the meantime, in Jimmie’s life. This was all the hard work over the past year, as Jerry Gutman helped guide Jimmie through the steps needed to get the proper diagnosis, treatment and compensation for the post-traumatic stress inflicted decades ago.

And, yet, there was still the matter of the $539. Jimmie would finally get the money by committing to regularly appearing in the landlord’s bank until, finally, in early March, there were sufficient funds to cover the check.

The big lesson from this story, says Jerry Gutman, is that when it came to the unscrupulous landlord, Jimmie made the decision that he was not going to be cheated out of his two hundred and fifty dollars.


“For the first time in his life Jimmie Martin used the legal system, used the legal system to gain his outcome, and was not the victim of the legal system. That was a huge ‘ah-hah’ for him.”–Jerry Gutman


A week after finally being able to cash the landlord’s check, Jimmie Martin graduated from the Spokane Veterans Forum. It was another towering step in his personal resurgence and, in gratitude, he wanted to not only buy all the food for the hundred or so people who would attend the ceremony, but cook it too. Jerry Gutman persuaded him to let him share that load, so the two of them wound up spending an afternoon cooking in Jerry and Bernice’s double-ovened kitchen.

“Jerry has supported me in all of the progress I have made,” Jimmie told the audience on graduation night. “I have found a friend forever.”

Gutman was deeply touched.

“I’d told Jimmie, ‘you know, when we get done with this court order thing, you’re not going to get rid of me.’ And he said, ‘damn right.’”

After a brief break, Jerry Gutman will come back to the Spokane Veterans Forum this summer and look for another veteran to mentor, and he fully expects Jimmie Martin to be his partner in that and other endeavors.

“He helps people,” Jerry says. “He helped his next door neighbor who had a drug episode and he’s continued to help his past neighbors, staying in touch with these folks and even helping another guy that the landlord was trying to cheat by turning him toward the Center for Justice. Jimmie’s paying it forward, if you know what I’m talking about. He just does that.”

When she and Jimmie reunited in March, Grace was visiting Spokane on a spring break from her studies. She had returned to the University of Washington in January, to resume her work toward degrees in International Studies and French.

After she listened to Jimmie share his life story, Grace quietly revealed that she has her own post-traumatic stress struggles from the brutal memories of the fire last year, in Paris.

“Silence is such a killer,” she said in a near whisper.

“It is,” Jimmie Martin, said softly back.

“And through this whole thing with the Center for Justice,” Grace continued, “it was like whatever I’d gone through, it just never felt so insurmountable when I was here because of the people I would talk to and their own experiences. Even if it was just this window, a tiny window into their lives, it’s like you could tap into this constructive power. Whatever they’re dealing with it seems to make your own struggle that much more bearable, if you can share the experience with other people.”

Jimmie Martin nodded.

“A lot of times when you think you’re having a bad day,” he said, “when you think you’ve got the bad problems, there’s always somebody out there worse off than us. That’s the way I look at it. Every day.”


Help for the Holidays

Julia* came to the Center for Justice a few days before Christmas. She is 57 years old and lives her life in the shadow of a mother’s deepest tragedy. Her only child was senselessly and brutally murdered four and a half years ago. It is more than enough for one person to carry around, to try to absorb while holding on to one’s faith, and to try to heal with the passage of time.

And then, last week, came the latest, cruel act of fate.  She was suspended from her job as a home care provider after an annual background check revealed a pending court date for a major drug charge. It was a bogus charge, one she had been cleared of 21 years ago. But now it had inexplicably re-emerged to take away her job and her only source of income. She arrived at our front desk with thirty days to prove the background report was incorrect.

After the tearful intake interview, the Center’s Community Advocacy Director, Suellen Pritchard, went to work. She called a superior court clerk, then record keepers in Olympia. The error was corrected and, if all goes as it should, Julia’s job will be restored before the end of the year.

*not her real name.

The Great Scooter Odyssey

Dan* came to the Center because he was poor, in pain, and had lost his Medicare-funded, motorized scooter while on a trip to see his mother in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His plan was to get to Tulsa by bus, leaving Spokane on the Greyhound line and then switching, in Montana, to the Jefferson line that serves the central United States.

His journey got off to a bad start even before he boarded the bus in Spokane. After setting aside his scooter so it could be stowed on the bus, he tripped over luggage and fell hard, injuring his knee. He got on the bus anyway but many hours later, in Wyoming, he was in so much pain from the fall that he had to be taken off the bus and

The elusive scooter

hospitalized. He never did make it to Tulsa. And neither did his scooter. Because it wasn’t a luggage item, the scooter had not been tagged. It had simply vanished and after trying, unsuccessfully, to locate it and get it returned to him, Dan sought help from the Center for Justice.

The find-the-scooter challenge was handed to senior CFJ volunteer Bob Rosen who quickly realized that he should consult with another CFJ volunteer, Randy Heinnaman because, Rosen knew, Heinnaman worked at Greyhound and might have some expertise on how to find missing items, including large items like a missing 250 pound motorized scooter.

In fact, Heinnaman remembered seeing the scooter and even remembered the circumstances under which he’d been asked to stow the maroon and grey vehicle in the storage compartment of the bus that Dan boarded that day. With help from Greyhound’s local manager, Randy began to hunt the system for the scooter, a task complicated because Greyhound’s huge lost & found collection in Dallas was then being moved from one warehouse to another. There was not even a phone number for the new warehouse. Randy then began calling bus stations along the way between Spokane and Tulsa, to see if anyone remembered unloading the scooter. No luck.

Finally, as a last resort, and just days before the Center was planning to abandon the case, Randy entered information about the scooter into an antiquated computerized message system used by the bus company. This was on a Monday. On Wednesday he arrived to work at Greyhound to behold a small miracle. There was the scooter, freshly arrived from Denver.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Randy said. “I was so excited I had to call Bob at home to tell him what had happened.”

Although the hardest part of reuniting Dan with his scooter was over, there were other complications. For starters, now that Bob and Randy had found the scooter, they’d lost track of the client. Because Dan was poor, he didn’t have a permanent residence. Instead, he’d been staying with a succession of friends and it took a while to track him down. The other complication is that the batteries in the scooter were dead and an attempt to charge them failed. Moreover, under the strict Medicare rules, the technicians authorized to work on the scooter to bring it back to life were prohibited from working on the scooter at the bus station. The scooter was only authorized for household use, so it could only be repaired at Medicare expense if it were at a residence.

The story had a happy ending this summer when, a year after the dreadful bus trip, Dan found his own, permanent residence and was reunited with his repaired scooter.

Getting it Straight, with the State

The story of Celia’s* failing health is not for the faint of heart. By the time she turned fifty she was blind and afflicted with numerous other major health problems, everything from osteoporosis, to arthritis, to hypertension and anxiety disorder. She was on nearly 20 prescription medications. Despite being bound to a wheelchair, Celia’s life is still enjoyable and she remains bright, engaged, and well-organized.

For years she has qualified for and taken advantage of COPES, which is a program, managed by the state Department of Social and Health Services, that pays for personal care and other services for people in their own homes. The program’s main purpose is to help people who, without it, would require placement in nursing homes.

Celia came to the Center for Justice in 2003 when the state notified her that it would no longer fully fund the home care hours she was receiving from a full-time caregiver. After three years of case work and on the eve of a hearing to contest the state’s announced decision, the Center for Justice reached a settlement negotiated with a state assistant attorney general that restored, at a minimum, the 240 hours per month that the state had been funding to provide for her care. The 2006 agreement and its conditions were very clear. On its face, it offered a final answer to the problem.

But it didn’t. In 2010, Celia was again notified that her home care hours would be cut due to the state’s budget cuts. She once again had to come to the Center to seek recourse. A Center for Justice volunteer reviewed the case. When the senior volunteer, a former top DSHS official, called his former agency, a state worker explained to him that because the Governor’s budget cuts were the “law” of the state, the reduction in hours is what the “law” required. This was a startling interpretation and, in a larger sense, raised many larger questions about how many other state service receivers were being arbitrarily cut or denied services.

In the case at hand, however, it also raised the very specific question of how the state agency could effectively override an explicit agreement it has signed in Celia’s case.  The CFJ volunteer kept investigating and learned that the Assistant Attorney General involved in the 2006 settlement was still with the state. Our volunteer called the Assistant AG who, in short order, not only disclosed that he remembered the case but warmly asked how Celia was doing. When told of the state’s new decision to cut her ours, the AAG quickly concluded that the irrevocable agreement from 2006 was still intact and that unless certain specified conditions in the agreement applied (none did) the state was barred from reducing her care hours.

The threatened cutback in care hours was then swiftly revoked, and Celia’s care hours and her access to the full-time care giver continue in place.

*Not her real name.