Tribute to my client, my friend, and the honor of representation

By Mark D. Horan

You never met Jim. You would have loved him. Jim was born in Worcester in 1959; we are about the same age.  In November, 1989, while at work, he fell backwards off of a scaffold from a height of twelve feet.  Because his hands were behind him (attempting to remove his work belt filled with tools), he was unable to extend his arms before he hit the ground.  He was paralyzed from the neck down upon impact.

Prior to meeting Jim, I had never met a man who could not shake my hand, and I worried about how our first encounter would go.  I traveled to Worcester to meet Jim at his apartment.  I was greeted at the door by Ralph, a member of his “Wista” gang of friends and family.  Ralph brought me into another room, where Jim was sitting upright, strapped to his wheelchair.  He was partially covered in a heavy blanket, and appeared to be quite comfortable, despite his physical condition.  I introduced myself, placed my hand on his left shoulder, and told him I would do anything I could do to help him.  He asked me where I went to college, and when I was born.  I thought these questions were odd, but informed him that I went to Assumption College, and was born in 1959.  He smiled broadly, chuckled, and said, “I partied with you!”  What?  He told me several of his friends were with me at Assumption, in Founders Hall, first floor, 1977, my first semester there.  Jim had visited my floor to party on several occasions.  All of Jim’s pals were party animals, and none lasted beyond the first year, but Jim recognized me nonetheless.

Jim became my favorite client, and a great friend.  I represented him for over fourteen years, fighting many battles on his behalf, until I was appointed as an administrative law judge.  When I learned of my appointment, I couldn’t just call Jim to tell him I could no longer represent him.  In fact, I loathed telling him, because part of me felt I was letting him down.  When I visited Jim to relay the news he was, of course, happy for me.  But when I explained that I could no longer assist him with his case, two 44 year‑old men started to cry. We tried to hide our tears from each other at first, but it proved impossible. I told him our friendship would survive, and that I would still call, and visit him on my trips to Worcester.  He said, “I hope so!”  I then told him that my good friend, attorney Bernie Mulholland, had agreed, if Jim consented, to represent him. I assured Jim that he would be in the best of hands, and he appreciated the referral.  Most of my, and Bernie’s, efforts on Jim’s behalf were pro bono.  His case could not be settled.  He needed every dime we could get him, and he needed his medical bills and personal care attendants paid timely.  He survived numerous illnesses and hospital stays.  The judicial system, slow as it is, failed him many times, but Bernie and I certainly did our best to get him what he needed to survive and thrive.  Jim always expressed his appreciation for our efforts.

Jim never complained to me about why he had to endure such suffering.  There was no hint of self-pity because his faith, and his character, forbade it.  He would, however, justifiably complain about how claims adjusters were slow to attend to his needs.  Despite the demands placed on our time, Jim was a labor of love for Bernie and me. Following my appointment to the bench, my friendship with Jim would continue, and our encounters included concerts and outings with his family and friends. Rita, my wife, came to love him as well.  She would tell you it was easy because Jim’s courage, perseverance and dignity were on permanent display.

Above all else, the dedication of his family, especially his three brothers and his wide circle of friends, was simply remarkable.  They attended to his needs twenty-four hours a day.  A visit to Jim’s home — a handicapped accessible house his father built while suffering from his last illness — was a visit, as the B-52‘s would put it, to the Love Shack —which brings me to Jim’s love of Rock and Roll.  In his youth, Jim was a “roadie” for Charlie Daniels, among others.  Jim’s knowledge of musicians and groups was encyclopedic.  He loved his music, family, biking brothers, motorcycles, and his collection of shot glasses.

Oh yes, the shot glass collection.  Whenever Rita and I went on a trip, we would buy a shot glass for Jim’s collection.  Consequently, Jim had glasses from, among other places, St. Thomas, USVI, Ireland, Spain, Italy, England, and from various U.S. destinations.  Last February, we were in Cleveland, and purchased a shot glass for Jim from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  A few weeks later, I visited Jim to present him with the latest edition to his collection. I told him he would love the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and suggested he arrange a trip there with his entourage.  He thought it was a good idea, and he loved the shot glass.  Instead of putting it in his special shot glass cabinet, he asked that it be placed in front of the TV in his bedroom.  And then he asked me about my job search, because he knew my two terms as a judge had expired.  I told him that nothing had developed yet.  He smiled and said, “it’s going to work out great for you, you’ll see.”  It did.

On the eve of my first day of work at Kenney & Conley, at the beginning of my renewed career as a lawyer representing injured flesh and blood people, not corporate “persons,” I brought an old plaque into my new office that was a gift from another law firm.  The plaque has a copy of a story in the March, 1995 issue of the Massachusetts Lawyers Journal picturing Jim, me, and attorney Jane Eden of Worcester.  The article concerned our efforts, which later were successful, to have removed from the Department of Industrial Accidents highly offensive posters depicting injured workers as frauds.  And on my first day at work, after propping the plaque up next to my desk, I received word that Jim had died.

Freed from his body, Jim is back where he belongs – with a loving God, and departed family and friends, including Ralph.  Jim was right, it worked out great.  But I can’t stop crying, because he meant so much to me. I look at his picture, sense his presence, and I am reminded of why I became a lawyer.  The honor of representing another human being is a hard‑earned privilege.  And sometimes, the most beautiful outcome of assisting people in need is a lifetime bond, an enduring love.  So it was with Jim.

The morning after hearing of his passing, I turned on Pandora to listen to music.  I thought of Jim’s love of Rock and Roll, so I chose my “ELO” channel, and cranked up the volume to see what he might want me to hear:  Boston group, The CarsLet the Good Times Roll – perfect.  I could imagine Jim standing, and belting out the lyrics in his glorified body, in a far better place ‒ probably with Ralph, and Chuck Berry:

“Let the stories be told

They can say what they want

Let the photos be old

Let them show what they want

Let them leave you up in the air

Let them brush your Rock and Roll hair

Let the Good Times Roll.”