Monthly Archives: February 2010

Senate Judiciary Committee passes filing-fee increase for legal services

The Maryland State Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee last night voted 8 to 3 to approve SB 248, a bill that would increase civil court filing fees to fund civil legal services, which have been reeling from a drop on interest rates for lawyers’ trust accounts (used to fund legal help for low-income people).  Furthermore, the committee added no amendments to the bill.

“We expect  the bill to be before the full Senate within the next few days–possibly tomorrow, but more likely early next week,” said Susan Erlichman, executive director of the Maryland Legal Services Corporation, which funds 35 programs around the state (including Maryland Legal Aid, the largest). “We’re off to a strong start, and need to keep up the momentum as we move through the session.  We still have quite a way to go.”

Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts has decreased by 70 percent over the last 18 months, while the demand for legal services has soared during the economic crisis, she added. Interest rates are expected to remain low. The the proposed filing fee increases would still keep Maryland’s fees below those of surrounding states.

Current filing fee surcharges generate about $7.5 million for Maryland’s legal services programs. “With the proposed increases, that would go up to about $9.1 million–an amount that would avert further cuts to the programs, which averaged about 20 percent for the current fiscal year– restore lost funding, and preserve and stabilize the delivery system for the poor in every jurisdiction in Maryland,” Erlichman said.

Bankruptcy program helps low-income people in Frederick County

The Bar Association of Frederick County and the Community Foundation of Frederick County have teamed up with the Midwestern Maryland office of Maryland Legal Aid to offer a free bankruptcy program to county residents, the Frederick News-Post reported yesterday. Participants receive an overview of Chapter 7 bankruptcy, get advice and can ask experienced attorneys about the process. Two-hour classes will be held alternating Tuesdays and Thursdays from March 11 through June 15. To read the article, click here.

Unintended consequences from foreclosure notice requirement?

An unintended consequence of a change in procedural rules that now require lenders to better notify homeowners before taking possession of  and selling their homes may be making it easier for lenders to go after borrowers, the Daily Record reported.

“[S]ome who work with foreclosures wonder whether the change may have also had the unintended result of making it easier for lenders to go after borrowers for the difference between the money owed on the original loan and the funds received from the foreclosure sale,” the article said.

“The remaining debt is referred to as the deficiency.”

While the jury is out on whether the direct-notice requirement for foreclosure has made it easier for lenders to serve former homeowners with delinquency notices and whether most homeowners lack the funds to pay the debt, one legal expert pointed out that not everyone who ends in foreclosure does so because of an inability to pay.

“Seniors are highly vulnerable” because they may not be judgment-proof,” said Kathleen Skullney, staff attorney in Maryland Legal Aid’s Foreclosure Legal Assistance Project. “They might have assets a lender could go after in a  deficiency proceeding.”

To read the article, click here.

Bill will help mobile home owners

A bill in the General Assembly would require mobile home park owners to notify residents and provide cash assistance if the land sells for another use, the Baltimore Sun reported earlier this week.  Park owners would be required to provide monetary help to residents who may lack the savings to move, Legal Aid staff attorney Jake Ouslander said. “Their home is essentially being taken away. This would help them transition,” Ouslander said. “This is an area of affordable housing that is very scarce in the state.” Ouslander works in Legal Aid’s Southern Maryland office in Hughesville. To read the article, click here.

What foreclosure mediation could look like

Maryland Legal Aid’s Kathleen Skullney, staff attorney in the Foreclosure Legal Assistance Project, today gave Baltimore Sun readers a glimpse of what could happen to the foreclosure process under Gov. Martin O’Malley‘s proposal to require loan reviews to slow the number of foreclosures. The idea, she explained to reporter Jamie Smith Hopkins, “is to tuck new requirements into the state’s current foreclosure timeline.”

“When lenders or servicers file foreclosure actions, they would have to include ‘an affidavit documenting completion of review, reasons for denial and calculations on which denial was based, or showing that review could not be completed because borrower failed to engage in the process,'” Hopkins wrote. “They would also have to document that they considered alternatives to foreclosure.”

“Meaning you use the 45 days to figure out what else you can do,” Skullney said. “And you make sure that that’s a fairly efficient process by giving homeowners the information they need the minute they get the notice of intent to foreclose–they can immediately apply, whether it’s the federal program, whether it’s the lender’s own program.”

To read the article, click here.