Friday, February 18, 2011

New York Foreclosure Legal Assistance

Mortgages (BNA 02/16/2011)

New York to Provide Legal Assistance In Foreclosure Cases, Chief Judge Says

ALBANY, N.Y.-New York state will create a program this year to ensure that homeowners who cannot afford a lawyer are provided with free legal assistance at their foreclosure settlement conferences, Judge Jonathan Lippman, the state's chief judge, announced Feb. 15 in his annual State of the Judiciary address.

Lippman said the program would begin in Queens, N.Y., in conjunction with the Legal Aid Society of Queens, and in Orange County, N.Y., with Hudson Valley Legal Services. The program will expand statewide by the end of the year, he said.

"A truly glaring problem ... is that the foreclosure process presents a need for legal counsel at precisely the moment when a lawyer is least affordable,'' Lippman said in his prepared State of the Judiciary report.

"Far too many homeowners enter our courts without legal help and with little understanding of the legal process. Many are so intimidated by the process and its consequences that they don't show up at all.''

The program is the second effort by Lippman and the state court system to address problems associated with foreclosures. In October, the New York State Unified Court System promulgated a rule requiring that attorneys for plaintiffs in residential foreclosure proceedings file an affirmation certifying that they have taken reasonable steps to verify the accuracy of documents related to the case.

The legal assistance program was applauded by the New York State Bar Association. "We are pleased with the chief judge's pilot program and his plans to later expand this innovative program statewide,'' Stephen P. Younger, president of the association, said in a statement.

"Nearly two-thirds of homeowners facing foreclosure are not represented by attorneys at their settlement conferences,'' Younger said.

Under a 2008 state law, courts must schedule a mandatory settlement conference with the parties in foreclosure proceedings involving certain subprime loans.

Lippman to Assign Attorneys

Lippman said, under the new program, he would assign legal services attorneys with foreclosure expertise to courts in the counties involved in the program. "After a screening process designed to make sure that the foreclosure settlement conferences are as meaningful as possible, these legal services attorneys will provide legal assistance or representation to unrepresented homeowners at the initial conference in as many cases as possible,'' he said.

"Thereafter, the attorney will either keep the case and continue with representation or refer the homeowner to a network of legal services, pro bono or law school clinic counsel who will be standing by to provide additional legal assistance in support of this project.''

By Gerald B. Silverman