We have all seen the fallout of the current foreclosure crises in Maryland. It is in the news, in the papers and blogged about daily. This problem was not created overnight and it will not be remedied overnight, either. However, due to recent events by the legislature, the future seems brighter for those homeowners facing foreclosure. This hope is also thanks in no small part to the tremendous number of attorneys who have responded to Chief Judge Robert M. Bell’s letter asking the private bar for help. (See Overwhelming Lawyer Volunteer Response to Maryland Foreclosure Crisis.)
Changes in the statutes give the homeowners more breathing room, but they do not stop the process. Continuing legal education trainings have been scheduled around the state in an effort to prepare attorneys to assist homeowners with foreclosure proceedings or other legal remedies prior to foreclosure.
Local attorneys will be helping in a number of ways. Not all cases will go to litigation. Many homeowners just need to have an attorney to sit down with them and go over their documents. To that end, foreclosure workshops will be held around the state for homeowners to bring in their paperwork to be reviewed.
In some cases, attorneys will work with area housing counseling services. These attorneys will be “of counsel” to the agencies and help to negotiate solutions with the lenders in an attempt to prevent foreclosures.
In some cases, there will be no legal remedies available and the case will have to go to court. Volunteer attorneys will be trained for this eventuality as well.
Almost 600 attorneys have either already taken the training or are signed up to attend future trainings. At press, there are four trainings still on the schedule. These are video replays and will be held:
• September 18 and 25. Maryland Bar Center, Baltimore
• November 14 and 21. Circuit Court Law Library, Rockville
[Please call the Pro Bono Resource Center office for more information and to register.]
Although 600 may seem like an immense number of attorneys to have trained in any one particular area of law, it pales in comparison to the number of filings around the state. Considering the thousands of potential foreclosures that could hit the courts over the next several months, these attorneys could wind up feeling a bit like the Spartans at Thermopylae. This great effort on behalf of the foreclosure volunteers will go a long way towards stemming the tide, but this will take time and more volunteers will be needed as time goes on.
Area law firms are also getting involved in the process. Even before the call to arms went out from Chief Judge Bell, the Greenbelt firm of Joseph, Greenwald & Laake, P.A. (JGL), created The Thousand Hours Project to assist local homeowners hit by the exploding foreclosure crisis.
“The size of this project is unprecedented, not only for JGL but for the State of Maryland as well,” notes project organizer and JGL partner Barbara A. Jorgenson, Esq. Pro bono services are provided without charge to the client, Jorgenson explains. JGL will team with local counseling agency Housing Initiative Partnership, Inc. (HIP), in Hyattsville. HIP will screen cases and refer them for legal assistance to a team of lawyers at JGL who have been specially trained to assist homeowners facing foreclosure.
“While our initial efforts will center on cases referred from HIP or Civil Justice,” says Jorgenson, “we anticipate doing cases throughout our practice areas in Montgomery, Prince George’s, Frederick, Anne Arundel, Howard and the Southern Maryland counties.” Case referrals will also be accepted through the Community Legal Services of Prince George’s County.
Attendees of previous foreclosure trainings are already starting to show results for their pro bono clients. John C. Gordon, Esq., a solo practitioner out of Severna Park, attended the training in Baltimore and then a subsequent workshop at Morgan State University. “It was a superb day,” Gordon says. “It was one of those times that made you remember why you went into law.”
Gordon wound up taking on five pro bono cases from the workshop and, based on information learned in the workshop, has already been able to help two of those cases reach an agreement with the lenders. “One of things we learned at the MICPEL training concerned FHA loans,” Gordon notes. “FHA loans provide for mandatory loss mitigation before the case can be docketed, so we were able to take advantage of this.”
Civil Justice Executive Director Phillip Robinson, Esq., said his agency has been at the forefront of this problem since it began manifesting itself. He maintains that the most efficient way to cope with foreclosure is not after the process starts but before it begins. “The real push of this program is to get the clients seeking advice beforehand,” Robinson says. “That is when the most effective work is done.”
Mary Goulet, Esq., of counsel to Whitman, Curtis, Christofferson & Cook, PC, a Virginia patent law firm, couldn’t agree more. “The pro bono cases we are currently working with came to us before the foreclosure process began,” Goulet says. “For instance, one elderly couple had been talked into a very complex adjustable-rate mortgage that was entirely inappropriate for them. We were able to stabilize the situation and prevent foreclosure, but this should never have happened. People need to have attorneys look over their mortgage paperwork before they sign, not after.”
If you are interested in helping out with the Foreclosure Prevention Pro Bono Project, please call the Pro Bono Resource Center (PBRC). Support the legal service agencies in your community. Add your resources to the fight. For more information on volunteer opportunities in Maryland, contact the PBRC at (410) 837-9379 or (800) 396-1274, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jon Moseley is Director of Volunteer Services & Community Outreach for the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.