By Joan Stopka
Luisa came into our office seeking the repayment of an outstanding substantial debt. She had not been able to get her money for years. She had loaned the money to a gentleman to help him rehab his house. The only proof she had that the transactions had taken place was a booklet of check stubs. We called a few law offices but the answer was always the same, there was no written contract and they couldn’t help us. We were essentially on our own. We made several trips to the Daley Center, filling out the proper forms in the proper way, getting the court date and having the defendant served with a subpoena by the sheriff.
The court date arrived and all the parties were present. My role was to serve as an interpreter for Luisa. We stood before the judge, who was very affable and kind and engaged me in some conversation about the importance of knowing more than one language. Since the defendant did not have an interpreter, the judge asked me to help him also. The case began and much to Luisa’s and my surprise, the defendant readily admitted to owing the money. The judge asked a few questions and listened and then he rubbed his chin. He leaned over the bench and proceeded to say to Luisa, “You speak Spanish”, then he leaned toward the defendant and said, “You speak Spanish” and then he looked at me and said, “I know YOU speak Spanish” He handed me a tablet of legal sized paper and a pen…”Go into my chambers and help them settle this”.
Now, I’m a retired high school Spanish teacher. As I walked down the hall with Luisa and the defendant behind me, I was shaking. I could teach them a song in Spanish, conjugate a few verbs, maybe even teach some fine grammar points, but this was way out of my comfort zone. To my astonishment, after about an hour we had reached an accord. During the negotiations, Luisa asked me if I liked tamales and which were my favorites? Huh??? Come on Luisa, we’ve got serious business here. But, I answered her question. We went back to the judge who was very happy that both parties seemed satisfied. I was still in a mild state of shock.
A few days later I was told to come to the reception area at our office because someone had dropped off a package for me. Inside there were a dozen and a half of fresh home-made tamales…my favorite kind.
All stories are based on real clients at Taller de José. Names and images have been changed to protect client privacy.