Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Praises The Chief Judge's New Initiative Aimed at Assuring Legal Representation in Foreclosure Cases

Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, praised the new initiative announced by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman to begin to assure that homeowners facing foreclosure are represented by an attorney, which could assist thousands of families in saving their homes. "There’s a huge demand,” Banks told The New York Times. “The new model is focused on redeploying resources to attempt to take more of an early intervention in the case rather than at the 11th hour when the sheriff is on the way.” The Legal Aid Society, which assists families and individuals in New York City, will be working with the courts to implement the initiative in Queens, a foreclosure hotbed.

February 15, 2011
The New York Times
New York to Assure Legal Aid in Foreclosure Cases
By David Streitfeld
New York court officials outlined procedures Tuesday aimed at assuring that all homeowners facing foreclosure were represented by a lawyer, a significant shift that could give thousands of families a chance to strike a better deal with lenders.
Criminal defendants are guaranteed a lawyer, but New York will be the first state to try to extend that pledge to foreclosures, which are civil matters. There are about 80,000 active foreclosure cases in New York courts.
Under the procedures, which will be put in place in Queens and Orange Counties in the next few weeks and then across the entire state, any homeowner in foreclosure who does not have a lawyer will be supplied one by legal aid groups or other volunteer groups.
New York has been successful in getting foreclosure defendants to show up at settlement meetings overseen by a judge and attended by the lender, but most are unassisted and have little idea how to proceed. The cases are overwhelming the courts.
The state’s chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, said the current system was “such an uneven playing field.”
“Banks wind up with the property and the homeowner winds up over the cliff, on the street,” Judge Lippman said. “It doesn’t serve anyone’s interest, including the bank’s.”
Legal aid groups will find the task of representing foreclosure defendants easier if the state legislature agrees to Judge Lippman’s request for a $100 million increase in legal services programs spread over the next four years. Current funding for legal services in the state is about $200 million a year drawn from a variety of public and private sources.
New York, which is one of the 23 states where foreclosures must be overseen by a judge, has been more aggressive than most in trying to reshape the housing cases flooding its courts. Lawyers in New York are now personally liable for the accuracy of the documents they represent in foreclosure cases, a requirement that some find onerous.
Legal aid organizations in the 23 states say that they do not have enough money or lawyers to help everyone who wants to be helped. New Mexico has started classes to help train people to represent themselves in court. Legal aid groups in other states are forced to choose among families, helping some but not others.
The Legal Aid Society, which assists families and individuals in New York City, will be working with the courts to supply the necessary lawyers in Queens, a foreclosure hotbed.
“There’s a huge demand,” said Steven Banks, the society’s attorney in chief. “The new model is focused on redeploying resources to attempt to take more of an early intervention in the case rather than at the 11th hour when the sheriff is on the way.”
Judge Lippman said he hoped that the lawyers would reach out to defendants before they even appeared in court.

Citing the 1963 ruling by the United States Supreme Court that state courts are required by the Constitution to provide counsel in criminal cases to defendants who cannot afford their own, Mr. Lippman said in an interview this was the right moment to extend that provision.
“Today it is an equally obvious truth that people in civil cases dealing with the necessities of life can’t get a fair day in court without a lawyer,” he said.

New York Post
Home team' judge
By Chuck Bennett
February 16, 2011

Homeowners battling bankers in complex foreclosure proceedings should have access to a pool of Legal Aid attorneys, New York's top judge proposed yesterday.

"It is precisely when the economy stagnates that the courts become society's emergency room," Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said yesterday in his State of the Judiciary Address in Albany.

Lippman unveiled a sweeping proposal to increase civil legal services for the indigent by $100 million to $300 million over the next four years -- a move he said would save the state $500 million down the road in reduced social-services costs for keeping people in their homes and their families intact.

The program will first launch in Queens and Orange counties, but will likely need approval of the Legislature to obtain funding to expand statewide.

"It is ironic that we generally provide assigned counsel at arraignment to people caught in public with an open can of beer -- and rightly so -- but if those people appear in court because they are about to lose the roof over their heads, they are on their own," he said.

Foreclosure filings doubled over the past five years and there are about 80,000 cases pending in New York, according to Office of Court Administration statistics.

Although New York is one of 23 states that require all foreclosure proceedings to take place before a judge, just 63 percent of homeowners fighting to keep their homes have an attorney present, Lippman said.

There were 17,000 foreclosures in New York City last year.

"There is no question that we need more resources," said Steve Banks, attorney-in-chief of The Legal Aid Society, which will provide the lawyers in Queens.

Last year, Lippman required that bank attorneys in foreclosure proceedings vouch for the accuracy of their documents.

The rule, which went into effect in October, sharply curtailed so-called "robo-signing" where bank officials had signed off on thousands of foreclosures without properly vetting them.

WCBS 880 News
WCBS 880 AM Radio New York
February 16th, 2010 8 - 9 AM

Male Reporter: New York is offering help to those in danger of losing their homes.

Female Reporter: Homeowners facing foreclosure who don’t have a lawyer will now get one under a new initiative implemented by state court officials. Legal Aid Society’s Steven Banks says that there are roughly 80,000 active foreclosure cases in New York courts.

Steven Banks, the Legal Aid Society: I think it’s certainly part of a series of initiatives that the chief judge is proceeding with to try to address the most vulnerable among us who are suffering greatly in the continuing economic downturn.

Female Reporter: Banks says the program will begin in Orange and Queens counties in the next few weeks and eventually be offered state wide.