Below is a message from Larry Wood, Director of LAF’s housing practice group, in honor of longtime LAF attorney Tim Hufman, as Tom retires from a long career in legal aid.
After more than thirty-eight years at LAF, Tim Hufman retired on September 7, 2018. At the end of such a long career, there’s a temptation to honor the person who’s leaving by using superlatives that aren’t really appropriate. After all, can anyone really say who at LAF is the most persuasive advocate, the best litigator, the top lawyer? No. But I can say, with complete confidence, that during the course of its more than fifty-year history, LAF has never employed an attorney who is more dedicated or energetic than Tim. Throughout his career he regularly worked 70 hours a week, and when he recently took a part-time position to run the Eviction Help Desk at the Markham courthouse, he only ended up reducing his schedule to 40 hours a week and therefore working full-time for significantly less money. So he wasn’t financially shrewd, but no one cared more about LAF’s clients.
Who else would jump into an alley dumpster to collect evidence against an opposing party, or draft sixty affidavits in support of a dispositive motion, or crawl under mobile homes to measure the distance between the ground and the bottoms of the these homes (all to support the argument that his clients should not be forced to move out of a park that had been designated a flood-plain but was located in a good and otherwise unaffordable school district)?
As Jennifer Payne (who supervised a neighborhood office with Tim for seven years) said during his retirement party, Tim was as good to his colleagues as he was to his clients. He changed a tire in the rain for one co-worker; drove home another when her car was vandalized; volunteered to help care for my twin daughters when they missed four months of school because of an auto-immune disorder; and, when a young man snatched a colleague’s purse in front of LAF’s former downtown office, chased the man down the street, apprehended him and held him until the police arrived, and recovered the purse.
Let’s not forget, however, that Tim was also eccentric. He fished a large piece of cake out of a trash receptacle and then defended his action to a horrified colleague who had captured his behavior on her camera phone. He got caught in LAF’s Englewood Office while working late one Saturday night when burglars broke in and, after hiding in the back for a while, escaped by picking up his briefcase and walking briskly past the burglars as if he didn’t notice them. As a much younger man, broke into an empty house while biking from New York City to Cleveland so he could take a shower and get some rest (narrowly avoiding the owner when he left the next morning).
For his first three decades of his career at LAF Tim was one of our unsung heroes, but in the past few years he started getting some well-deserved recognition. In 2013 he received the Jerold Solovy Award, and during his acceptance speech talked about an experience that’s common to many of our clients: making a single mistake—missing a rent or utility or car payment, committing a petty crime, missing work, getting in a fight at school—and facing the loss of a desperately needed benefit or opportunity. Tim asked the assembled attorneys and judges to think about how many second (or third or fourth or fifth) chances they had been given, and how their lives might have been different without such multiple opportunities to correct their mistakes. It was a remarkable moment. You could sense every person in the room remembering some time when he or she was given a chance to start over. It made them think, in a way they might not have before, about our clients’ situations and why the work we do matters so much.
A couple years later the Chicago Bar Foundation honored Tim by giving him the Thomas Morsch Award. I learned that Tim was receiving this honor when he called me from the Markham Help Desk and asked if I had time to discuss a pressing matter. “Oh, this is bad,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do about this, but I hope you can help me out.” I told him to calm down and explain the problem. He told me about the award, which he wanted to reject on the grounds that “all [he does] is run a help desk,” and that many other LAF attorneys are more deserving. “It’s a lifetime achievement award,” I said. “You’re not getting it for running a help desk.” This didn’t reassure him, so I tried another tack. “Look, Tim,” I said, “I know everything seems dark and hopeless right now, but it will be OK. You’ll get past this.” Tim’s ridiculous reaction was not false humility. He is a genuinely humble person who never seeks the attention he deserves, which made the CBF’s decision to recognize his service and achievements all the more satisfying.
Although September 7 was officially Tim’s last day at LAF, he has volunteered to stay on to train his replacement. Tim expects that the training process will take at least a month, and he refuses to get paid for his services. Two days ago he called me and said, “Listen, I hate to ask, but my wife and I were really hoping to get away for a few days. Is it OK if I take off the week of the 17th?” “That’s two weeks after you retire,” I said. “You don’t have to ask my permission to take time off from work anymore.” “So, it’s OK?” he asked. “I just want to make sure.”
There will never be another Tim Hufman, and LAF is not the same without him.