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Before reality TV, young attorneys had mere litigation as a means of justice for a 62-year-old Queens woman and her adopted twin boys driven to the streets after a building contractor allegedly left their house uninhabitable and then filed a lawsuit demanding more money. Enter “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” a popular Sunday night show on ABC. St. John’s University School of Law has found it to be a useful — if unorthodox — tool in aiding Lucy Carol Ali, who was referred to the campus elder law clinic by the Legal Aid Society of Queens. Understating circumstances in the matter of Complete Home Remodeling of New York v. Ali, 03-008336, clinic director Ann Goldweber said, “This was not a traditional lawyering role for us.” Sometime between late next month and Christmas — as counterclaims in the suit before Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Joseph Covello will no doubt still be grinding away — ABC will air the before-and-after story of Ali’s odyssey of homelessness, debt and staying strong for her children. In August, an enormous load fell from her shoulders as Justice Covello signed an order finding Long Island-based Complete Home Remodeling in default and liable for damages, in accordance with an agreement reached between the elder law clinic and Complete’s counsel to drop all claims against Ali. Also last month, Ali’s house was transformed by a second builder engaged by the network. A dormer was added for the boys’ bedrooms, the kitchen was extended, an additional bathroom was installed and the lot was landscaped. The house, brought back from the dead by the East Meadow firm Allure Home Improvement, Ltd., now stands as a symbol for Ali’s restored faith in honest workmanship and the equity of law. “They were angels who kept me alive,” she said of the St. John’s elder law group. “They helped instill hope that something was going to work out while they worked on litigation.” Referring to Gina Calabrese, assistant director of the elder law clinic who dealt with the entertainment community as a lawyer in Santa Monica, Calif., before joining the St. John’s faculty, Ali added, “With her background in Hollywood and show business, Gina got her foot in the door with the people at ‘Extreme Makeover,’ and the students were persistent.” Yesterday, a flock of Ali’s “angels” gathered at the restored house in South Ozone Park to admire the work performed by Allure Home Improvement, whose employees went beyond their ABC agenda by dipping into their own pockets to establish a college scholarship fund for her 12-year-old sons, Paul and Kuran. Elizabeth M. Daitz could not help but recollect her initial visit to the house a year earlier. “I went in there, and I was in tears,” said Ms. Daitz, 24, a third-year student at St. John’s Law. “It was a complete mess, a disaster.” According to Ms. Ali’s pending counterclaims — breach of contract, breach of implied warranty and violation of state General Business Law � 349 — Complete Home Remodeling collected $71,500 of an estimated $80,000 for the project before abandoning the site in October 2002. Melville attorney John Stravato, counsel of record for Complete, did not return several calls seeking comment. Ms. Goldweber, the elder law clinic’s director, said that Stravato had repeatedly advised her that Complete would soon file for bankruptcy. In her action, Ali alleges that Complete failed to obtain building permits for its “substandard” work, and that the remodeling company left her home filled with construction debris, largely without electricity, no running water, no kitchen or bathroom, and “a huge gaping hole in the kitchen wall, leaving the defendant’s home exposed to the elements, robbery and foraging by animals.” Pipes exposed to frigid air burst in December 2002, according to the counterclaims. In an interview, Ali said that during one of her periodic visits to her ruined house she was frightened by squatters. From October 2002 until last month, Ali and her sons lived “pillar to post,” she said, dependent on temporary stays with relatives and a family shelter in the Bronx, along with personal loans and cash advances from credit cards. All the while, Ali, who is physically disabled and whose monthly income of about $2,400 consists of Social Security and a state adoption subsidy, made mortgage payments on her dilapidated house. During her homeless period, the New York City Department of Buildings cited her for construction debris littering her uninhabitable property from an overflowing dump bin allegedly abandoned by Complete. In preparing the case for assistance from “Extreme Makeover,” the extensive damage to Ali’s house was videotaped by Nils C. Shillito, 23, a second-year St. John’s student. “Because [Complete] is going to file for bankruptcy, it’s unlikely that she’ll get any compensation,” he said. “That’s why we pursued ‘Extreme Makeover’ so aggressively. We’re definitely a full-service law firm.” Litigation is ongoing, said Calabrese. “If we see a recovery, it will be a long time coming,” she said. “If we’d put all our eggs in that one basket, it wouldn’t have delivered help so soon.” Goldweber said additional relief would be sought through the Victims Compensation Fund of the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs, and possible litigation against the mortgage company that brokered the loan and persuaded Ms. Ali to sign a contract with Complete. To that end, Goldweber deposed an officer of the mortgage company on Tuesday. In addition to Daitz and Shillito, students who worked on the case included Allison S. Biller, Anurag Parkash, Ryan E. Dempsey, Mariya V. Link, Joe C. Liu, Afaf Nasher, Vinny Lee, Faith Lovell, Sehr Mehboob and Gavin W. Scotti, Jr. “All our students went above and beyond in this case,” said Calabrese. “They were all so motivated in helping with the big problems and the smaller ones, too.” Students helped Ali with a debt repayment plan and successfully won dismissal of the city’s debris citation in an appearance before the Environmental Control Board. After Daitz found Ali a short-term apartment, her colleagues raised rent money through Catholic Charities and the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies. There was the campus bake sale, too. “Everybody came together in such great spirit,” said Daitz. “We had faculty handing us twenties and not taking anything.” The students searched for legal solutions to a cascade of problems that typically occur in representing low-income clients. A former model, Ms. Ali was disabled in the early 1990s in a gypsy cab accident. Before that, she worked as a collections manager in the city’s Department of Finance, where she received awards for collecting back luxury taxes — to the tune of $9 billion. When her boys were infants, orphaned by a crack-addicted mother, she adopted them. Her plan, as they approached adolescence, was to remodel her one-bedroom, one-bath house. “You try to be responsible and make good choices, and probably real estate is the best investment,” she said. “Then, lo and behold, some crook takes advantage. Well, thank God for the law students. They have character. They are humanitarians as well as professionals.” As for “Extreme Makeover” and the people at Allure Home Improvement, Ali said, “When I saw that house, well, I just went off with joy. All I know is, my prayer was answered.”

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