Lawyers to Aid Homeowners Faced With Foreclosure

Nearly 70 answer call by Toledo Bar Association
(Nov. 22, 2008)

By Erica Blake, Blade Staff

Reprinted with permission from The Blade,

Dick Malone hasn't actually seen a desperate homeowner receive the notice that his house was going into foreclosure, but he knows that many see the envelope and likely never open it.

"When they know they haven't been paying their bills and they see that envelope, they say, 'This is the beginning of the end,'" said Mr. Malone, president of the Toledo Bar Association.

"Their reaction is, 'I can't do anything about it.' We need them to understand that just because they are in a financial crisis doesn't mean there is no hope."

Over the last decade, the number of foreclosures filed in Lucas County Common Pleas Court has nearly tripled. In 2008, more than 4,100 foreclosures are expected to be filed.

To help residents who face being forced from their homes, the court has studied the problem and instituted some solutions.

Among them was a call to the nearly 1,500 active members of the bar association for volunteers to represent those homeowners embroiled in the foreclosure process.

Nearly 70 lawyers gathered yesterday at the bar association's downtown building to learn how they can help homeowners faced with foreclosure.

The volunteers are among the nearly 80 who responded to the court's request. That's in addition to another 50 lawyers who agreed to participate in "Save the Dream," a volunteer program begun by the Ohio Supreme Court and the Ohio Attorney General's Office to match attorneys with foreclosure defendants.

"The numbers are way beyond our expectations," said Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Frederick McDonald, a member of the committee of judges of the court's general trial division that was formed to address foreclosure issues.

He added that what distinguishes Lucas County from the procedures other counties are putting in place is that attorneys are representing clients in mediation cases.

"A lot of people when they get foreclosure papers, they just give up because they don't know there is help," he said.

"I'm very confident by providing legal assistance to homeowners that we can help save homes."

Homeowners receiving foreclosure summons also will receive information from the court on the phone numbers for the state's "Save the Dream" program as well as the Toledo Bar Association's lawyer referral service and Legal Aid of Western Ohio.

Mary Ellen Natale, a lawyer with Legal Aid of Western Ohio, said that having additional lawyers from the bar association helps her office manage the number of cases that come in.

"While we do what we can, we don't have enough lawyers to address the needs," she said.

Additional changes the courts have instituted to help with the influx of foreclosures include increasing filing fees to help fund additional staff and hire a foreclosure magistrate to help mediate cases.

Mari Taoka, the foreclosure magistrate since May, said that her office has had many successes, even if it involves allowing a homeowner who can no longer afford mortgage payments to have a "graceful exit" before being forced out.

"Ultimately, we'd like to see everyone stay in their homes, but sometimes that's not possible," she said.

Homeowners not yet served with foreclosure papers but who are having trouble are advised to call 211 for referral to appropriate local or national resources.