NY Chief Judge Increases Access To Justice in Foreclosure Cases

By: Ainsley Brown

Foreclosures helping to sink the US economy

It is a gross understatement to say that foreclosures have hit the US economy hard. In fact, because housing has so many connections to the health of the US economy – from construction to lending to 401K’s – foreclosures continue to be a major drag on the tepid US recovery. Solving the foreclosure crisis therefore will be essential to accelerate the growth in the US.

Whatever solution or solutions that are eventually had one thing that cannot – must not – be forgotten is that at the end of the day foreclosures are not only about property but about people; people whom simply wanted to have the ‘American dream’ of home ownership. Any solution or solutions that forgets or over looks this only solves part of the problem.

One of these people-centric solutions that caught my eye comes from New York.

The resent move by Jonathan Lippman, the Chief Judge Of the New York Court of Appeals to take steps to provide unrepresented homeowners facing foreclosure legal representation free of charge, while not a panacea, does help to address a major issue in the foreclosure crisis – access to justice. All too often people facing foreclosure due to the lack of funds are self represented – while I am sure that many are quite intelligent and capable, they are none the less at a clear disadvantage at even the most newly minted attorney much less more senior members of the Bar.

The Chief Judge citing from the seminal US Supreme Court’s decision of Gideon v. Wainwright, which established that under the US Constitution State courts where required to provide a lawyer for criminal defendants who were unable to afford one, for necessity of doing the same in foreclosure cases. In his annual State of the Judiciary speech on February 15 make it clear that he believes that “today it is 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.”

Lippman’s program is slated to be rolled out first in Queens and Orange counties and will be statewide by years end. This program, if successful, could go along way of addressing the nearly 800,000 and growing foreclosure actions pending before New York Courts. 

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