January 2010 - The Pro Bono Committee: The Foreclosure Prevention Project and Other Opportunities to Serve
by Jeanne A. Thomas and Donna L. Snow
The Pro Bono Committee recently partnered with the Public Law Center in efforts to address the legal needs of Orange County homeowners dealing with loan default and foreclosure issues. The need for pro bono legal services in this area is urgent. Reports indicate that default proceedings have been commenced against one in every sixty-four homes in Orange County, and foreclosure rates are continuing to rise. Unscrupulous attorneys and others have compounded the human misery these statistics represent, charging excessive fees for loan modification assistance, but often doing little or nothing to benefit the homeowner. Unfortunately, Orange County has the dubious distinction of being home to eleven of the sixteen attorneys currently under investigation by the State Bar for misconduct related to loan modification.
State Bar President Howard Miller recently called on attorneys in California to lend their pro bono efforts to aid desperate homeowners harmed by these loan modification scams: “The profession as a whole has a responsibility here and we must meet it. And as a part of that we also must expand our pro bono efforts to help the clients who have been harmed by lawyer misconduct.”
The Pro Bono Committee/Public Law Center Foreclosure Prevention Project will provide an opportunity for volunteer attorneys to answer this call to service by offering training for attorneys to learn how to better help desperate homeowners facing foreclosure and by facilitating pro bono opportunities through which volunteer attorneys can assist these homeowners. The first training session will be held on January 26, 2010. Look for more details on the Foreclosure Prevention Project on the OCBA website and in the OCBA eNewsletter. Public Law Center attorney Leigh Ferrin and Pro Bono Committee member Donna Snow are spearheading this project.
In addition to the new Foreclosure Prevention Project, the Pro Bono Committee has continued to provide training and pro bono opportunities for OCBA members in the areas of bankruptcy, guardianship, domestic violence and immigration.
Weekly clinics to assist pro bono clients with guardianship matters have been conducted at the Lamoreaux Justice Center since 2005. The guardianship clinics came about as a result of the efforts of attorneys Donna Bashaw and Claudette Kunzman who were alarmed by the number of persons who were unable to bring stability to the life of a child because they couldn’t afford an attorney to assist them with the guardianship legal process. Pro Bono Committee members Donna Bashaw and Claudette Kunzman, and Public Law Center attorney Rebecca Canales, currently devote countless hours to train attorneys and to staff the weekly clinics with attorney volunteers. Volunteer attorneys are always needed, and training sessions are generally held three times a year.
The Immigration Project was designed to address the needs of Orange County’s immigrant community through educational presentations about immigration law issues of general interest to the community. These presentations, which have been very well attended, are conducted in both English and Spanish in conjunction with adult education classes throughout Orange County. The efforts of Pro Bono Committee member Marcelos Reyes are currently reinvigorating the Immigration Project. He is involving the Hispanic Bar Association of Orange County and the Immigration Section of the OCBA in this pro bono project. Your participation is invited.
Incoming OCBA President Lei Lei Wang Ekvall chairs this project through which attorneys volunteer at Chapter 7 clinics and reaffirmation clinics conducted at the U.S. Courthouse in Santa Ana. The volunteer attorneys provide general legal advice on bankruptcy procedures and reaffirmation agreements. During these difficult financial times the court clinics are very busy, and new volunteers are always welcome and appreciated. A Bankruptcy Legal Clinic Training Seminar is periodically scheduled to train new volunteers.
Domestic Violence Project
Monthly or bi-monthly clinics are held at Human Options, Laura’s House and Family Outreach Center where victims of domestic violence meet with volunteer attorneys for brief legal counseling. Issues discussed typically include restraining orders, dissolution of marriage, custody, support and other family law matters. Incidents of domestic violence are increasing, and community shelters and resource centers are struggling to retain sufficient staff to respond to victim requests for assistance. Domestic Violence Legal Clinic Training Seminars for volunteer attorneys are held twice per year. Pro Bono Committee member Vanessa Novak and Public Law Center attorney Cynthia Holton chair this project.
Jeanne A. Thomas and Donna L. Snow co-chair the Pro Bono Committee. OCBA staff liaison Dawn Miller provides invaluable support. Membership on the committee is open to all OCBA members.