Metropolitan Maryland office staff attorney Vicki Taitano is off to a good start in her job as the lead housing preservation advocate for the office, which covers Prince George’s, Montgomery and Howard counties. She and a client recently signed an agreement that will get her house back from foreclosure. The story: The client had fallen behind on her mortgage after the birth of her son and she had to cut her work hours back to part-time for a short period. She worked out a forbearance agreement with the bank. But they suddenly decided not to honor the agreement and rushed to foreclose.
The client had been in the house for 10 years. The home equity line of credit lien holder foreclosed and sold to a private purchaser. Even though the bank admitted it made a mistake and tried to pull it back from the purchaser, he would not agree. Taitano filed objections to motions for possession and surplus proceeds and threatened legal action against the bank, which was negotiating to try to buy the house back from the purchaser.
“The client, feeling emboldened by having Vicki on her side, helped turn up the heat on the bank by contacting a local television station consumer helpline,” said Metro chief attorney Blake Fetrow. “Caught between Vicki’s threats of a lawsuit and the light cast on their error by Channel 7, the bank agreed to pay the purchase price to a third-party purchaser. They then modified the loan to the client and forgave the missed payments from all of the time that this was going on. The end result is that the foreclosure on her home was cancelled and she is still in her house with a much better, more manageable loan.”
Legal Aid hosted an all-day training conference for lawyers on foreclosure Sept. 3 at the Charles Ecker Business Center in Columbia . The training presented an overview of basic foreclosure law and recent changes in foreclosure law, including a review of claims and defenses for effectively representing homeowners.
Presenters included Vicki Schultz, senior advisor for consumer protection at the Dept. of Labor, Licensing & Regulation; Peter Holland of the Holland Law Firm; Sally Scott, senior program officer at the Baltimore Neighborhood Collaborative; and Daniel Mosteller, litigation counsel at Center for Responsible Lending. Legal Aid presenters included staff attorney Kathleen Skullney of the Foreclosure Legal Assistance Project, senior attorneys Louise Carwell and Susan Tannenbaum, and staff attorney Jake Ouslander of the Southern Maryland office. There were 66 attendees representing almost every Legal Aid office and community partners, including other legal services organizations and volunteer attorneys.
Public Justice Center executive director John Nethercut said he appreciated that Legal Aid opened the conference to other legal services providers. “We learned a great deal about the nuts and bolts of foreclosure defense,” Nethercut said. “We also appreciated that Legal Aid placed the legal issues within the broader context of how the foreclosures crisis is affecting homeowners, tenants, and communities by bringing in presenters from the Baltimore nonprofit housing community, the DLLR, and the private bar. This training provides all of us valuable information as we consider a variety of strategies to address the foreclosure crisis.”
Three new board members were appointed to Maryland Legal Aid’s board of directors by the Maryland State Bar Association and approved at the annual board meeting earlier this summer: Jessica A. duHoffman, a partner at Miles & Stockbridge in Baltimore; Sheila J. Sullivan, the District Public Defender for Southern Maryland in La Plata; and Carlos Braxton, Senior Grants & Contracts Associate/Attorney at The Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine in Baltimore.
duHoffman was recently promoted to partner in Miles & Stockbridge’s commercial litigation group and practices in the area of commercial banking and banking litigation with emphasis on lender liability, commercial and consumer credit, and collections. She earned her JD at the University of Baltimore School of Law and provides pro bono work for the House of Ruth, the Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Mid-Shore Council on Family Violence.
Sullivan supervises 18 assistant public defenders and 18 support staff that handle circuit, juvenile and district court cases in Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law and is active in the Maryland State Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association and previously served as chair of the Calvert County Local Pro Bono Committee.
At Johns Hopkins, Braxton is responsible for drafting and negotiating clinical trial agreements for human subject clinical trials. He is a graduate of UB Law and was president of the Young Lawyers Division of Legal Aid’s Equal Justice Council from 2005 to 2007.
Southern Maryland office (Hughesville) staff attorney Jake Ouslander (left) recently obtained an $8,000 settlement check for a Charles County couple, aged 79 and 86, subjected to unfair and deceptive sales practices when they purchased a car.
The story: In June 2007, the couple went to a Waldorf, Md., car dealer to purchase a car. Sales representatives separated the couple from each other and subjected each of them to a sales pitch that lasted about four hours, despite the wife’s entreaty to be allowed to leave because she was feeling ill and disoriented due to her diabetes and heart condition. Eventually, the couple were allowed to leave the dealership, having purchased a car that they felt they could not afford.
A few days later, they returned to the car dealer to complain about the pressure sales tactics. A representative of the car dealer agreed to rescind the sale of the vehicle and sell them another car at the blue book value. The couple signed the sales documents presented and took their car home. Later, they realized that the car was sold to them at almost twice its blue book value. In addition, they had not received credit for the cash prize that induced them to shop at that dealership, and they had unwittingly purchased a warranty policy.
“When the couple sought help at the senior outreach site, Jake advised them of the law and sent a demand letter to the car dealer,” reported chief attorney Seri Wilpone. “The dealer’s attorney informed Jake that the contract limited the resolution of disputes to the National Arbitration Forum. Jake’s clients asked him to seek damages in the National Arbitration Forum, and he filed a complaint setting forth the misrepresentations and unfair and deceptive practices of the car dealer and seeking compensatory and punitive damages.” Within a few weeks of filing the complaint, the car dealer made a settlement offer, which the clients accepted, and sent a check to Jake’s clients for $8,000.
Most of the time, Legal Aid clients are on the defensive side in arbitration claims, and the expense of defending in that forum is prohibitive for many of them, Jake explained. “Being on the affirmative side did have some benefits,” he noted. “It was nice to have a less formal process for filing and making discovery requests. The rules are much different than the rules of court, and I would recommend reading every applicable rule twice to make sure no mistakes are made. Ultimately, the clients’ commitment to pursing a vindication of their rights even in an unfamiliar forum persuaded the car dealer to settle.”
Maryland Legal Aid executive director Wilhelm H. Joseph Jr.
An interview with Wilhelm Joseph, Maryland Legal Aid’s executive director, is the lead story in this month’s NLADA Client Update newsletter, “Called to Lead: One-on-One with Wilhelm Joseph.” The introduction calls Joseph a “pivotal equal justice leader.” In the interview, he talks about his upbringing in Trinidad. “I had a sense of vision and justice, which I think was inculcated in me by my grandmother, who got her sense of justice from her strong religious beliefs…I have not met a single individual yet in my life who walked the talk like my grandmother,” Joseph said. “And she taught me that adherence to principle and humility can in fact make you a very strong person.” To read the entire interview, click here.
Foreclosure Legal Assistance Project attorney Kathleen Skullney is quoted in a front-page article in today’s Washington Post, “Foreclosure crisis catching renters off guard.” In Maryland, new owners of a foreclosed house are not obligated to contact renters in advance, Kathleen told The Post. Once a foreclosure is approved and eviction is legally allowed, the renter may have to leave on the spot. “The renter has no defense at that point,” Kathleen said. “If there ever was an overlooked and uncontemplated consequence of the foreclosure crisis, this is it.”
Read the article.