Grace Quinn, 91; Co-Founded Law Firm at Age 66 to Help the Needy
By Dennis McLellan - Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 18, 2006
When the Levitt & Quinn Family Law Center was operating out of its
original storefront location on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake in the
early 1980s, office manager Ziva Naumann would show up in the mornings
with a bucket of paint and a paint roller to blot out the graffiti
that had appeared overnight.
Then she'd go inside the squat building with bars on its windows to
clean the rodent droppings off the desktops before clients began
But their far-from-posh surroundings didn't bother law partners Ethel
Levitt and Grace Quinn - two widowed grandmothers who returned to the
practice of law after their husbands died and co-founded the nonprofit
family law firm with Naumann, a paralegal.
"The physical part of this place we just tune out," Quinn told The
Times in 1984. "It is the people we are concerned with."
Quinn, who devoted more than two decades of her later years to
providing low-cost legal services to low-income clients, died Sunday
of pneumonia and congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical
Center in Los Angeles, said her son, Tom. She was 91.
Quinn was 66 and Levitt was 69 when they joined forces in 1981 after
federal funding for family law services was reduced and the Legal Aid
Foundation of Los Angeles closed its family law section.
Levitt and Naumann, who had worked together at Legal Aid, took over
more than 460 unfinished cases and opened the law office on Sunset
Boulevard to serve the needy. Not long afterward, they recruited Quinn
after meeting her at a United Way luncheon.
"A Family Law Center, Levitt & Quinn Attorneys" the sign over the
original law center building proclaimed in English, and also in
Spanish for the Spanish-speaking people who visited their spartan
office and made up 40%% of their clientele: "Centro de Problemas de
Familia, Levitt & Quinn Abogadas."
Neither Quinn nor Levitt, who drove a Cadillac with a license plate
that said "LAWMAMA," took salaries.
"You're not supposed to make money in this line of work," Quinn told
The Times in 1993.
"Grace was a dedicated lawyer and a hard-working, compassionate
woman," Naumann told The Times this week. "She never complained, and
the volume was enormous, the pressure was great."
Quinn continued to work at the law center after recovering from
open-heart surgery in the mid-1980s. And after undergoing a second
mastectomy, she was back to work within three weeks.
"I saw as her face cringed when she had to put the paper in the
typewriter," recalled Naumann. "I got up and said, 'Grace, you came
back too soon.' She said to me, 'Ziva, do you think if I stayed at
home it wouldn't hurt? At least here I am useful.' "
In 1990, Levitt and Quinn attracted the attention of "60 Minutes,"
which featured a segment on them titled "My Grandmother, the Lawyer."
"Levitt and Quinn is a law firm like no other law firm you've ever
heard of," correspondent Harry Reasoner said in the piece.
Of Levitt and Quinn, Reasoner said: "They like being grandmothers, but
they like being lawyers even more."
The morning after the Sunday night broadcast, Naumann said, "every
major studio and director called interested in getting the rights to
The three women wound up selling an option to their story for $75,000.
The movie was never made, but they donated the option money to the
firm, and the $75,000 became the down payment on the center's current
Levitt & Quinn Family Law Center is now in a historic building on
Beverly Boulevard just west of downtown Los Angeles. Six lawyers,
along with a five-member support staff and volunteers, serve 1,000
clients a year, each of whom pays a small fee based on a sliding scale
that Quinn helped establish.
Cases include adoptions, divorces, child custody disputes, child
support issues and other family law matters.
"There are now tens of thousands of lives that Grace has touched
through her establishment and dedication to this organization, and
there will be many, many more," said Richard Bloom, the law center's
executive director. "Grace, along with Ethel and Ziva, have left a
lasting legacy in Los Angeles."
Born Grace Cooper in Winnipeg, Canada, on Sept. 25, 1915, Quinn moved
to Los Angeles with her family as a young child.
After graduating from Roosevelt High School during the Depression, she
worked as a registrar for the dean of Pacific Coast University College
of Law in Long Beach, a job that allowed her to attend law school at
night for free.
She passed the California bar exam in 1937 and worked in the U.S.
attorney's office in Los Angeles for several years.
In 1941, she married journalist Joseph Quinn, who joined a group that
purchased City News Service in the early 1950s. He later served as
deputy mayor to Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty from 1961 to 1973.
Quinn, who had given up her law career during World War II, went to
work for the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles in the late 1950s and
worked there into the '60s before quitting.
After her husband died in 1979, she figured that it was time to return
to work. She worked briefly with another lawyer before joining Levitt
and Naumann at the Family Law Center.
"After my father died, she made a whole new life for herself," said
Tom Quinn, chairman of City News Service. "She didn't have a passion
for law, but she had a passion for helping people."
Levitt died in 1995. Quinn retired from the law firm in 2001 but
continued to be involved with its fundraising.
"Life was good to me," she told the Jewish Quarterly a few months ago.
"I wanted to make a difference, and I wanted to give something back."
In addition to her son Tom, Quinn is survived by her son Bob; a
stepson, Joseph M. Quinn Jr.; 10 grandchildren; and 13
The family requests that donations in Quinn's name be made to Levitt &
Quinn Family Law Center, 1557 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, 90026.
"It's not that I'm afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens." - Woody Allen
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