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Legal Aid: Help for Those Who Need It

Sunday, October 19, 2008

  • By: Karen Shade
  • Organization: Tulsa World

Julia Pearson and Victor Hunt, Legal Aid Attorney

Julia Pearson is a private person who'd rather not tell people about her business. But when Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma helped her save her home, she was ready to talk.

About how a mortgage company that tried to foreclose on the home she'd lived in since 1977 - she fell behind on payments when an accident at work caused her to lose a job she loved.

And she was ready to talk about how a so-called foreclosure rescue company approached her in 2004 with assurances that it could help her keep the house. She gave the company $1,000, and they did nothing.

Legal Aid helped her get a settlement for that, too.

But while she dealt with the personal turmoil that threatened her life, she kept her problems to herself. No doubt, she said, because of stubborn independence. She didn't even tell her beloved church family. It's just her nature.

"They probably wonder why I never came to them, because they probably could've helped me," Pearson said.

Pearson made the final payment on her house through a Chapter 13 bankruptcy reorganization plan a few months ago. Now the house is hers, but it's hard to forget about the stress, pain and anger that she has lived with for the last four years.

"You can't go to sleep, because your mind won't relax," she said. "You have to be strong. It's not easy. You wonder, 'What am I going to eat?' because you get where what you like, you can't buy anymore," she said.

But the situation has gotten better now that the house is safe. Pearson is just one of more than 300 people Legal Aid Services' Tulsa office helps every year.

"I don't know (about other people). I can only really say what they did for me. They were just fantastic," Pearson said.

Legal Aid provides services to low-income individuals and seniors. Its attorneys handle noncriminal cases involving adoption, domestic violence, repossession, veterans benefits, child support collection and bankruptcy.

Victor Hunt, who has worked at the Tulsa office for two years, was the second attorney to work on Pearson's case.

"She just got into a situation that is not uncommon - somebody losing a job or somebody being injured. Their income stops, and they can't make the mortgage payments," Hunt said.

Pearson was only a few years away from paying off her mortgage when a pallet jack ran over her foot at the grocery store where she worked. She was a butcher for many years and used to stand on her feet 10 hours a day. The bones were shattered. She now relies on a walking stick. Despite four operations, her foot hasn't healed as it should. Now, Pearson is disabled.

But the series of events and the years following also took a mental and emotional toll on the woman, who became a first-time homeowner at age 37 and was used to doing things herself without help.

"I wanted that away from me, and it's gone. It's gone," she said.

Hunt said he has a lot of clients who come in and disappear, but Pearson stuck with them to finish it.

"We had some bumps and some tough times in this, but we got through it," he said.

With the payments to the bankruptcy court finished, the house is now free and clear.

"It's jubilant for me," Pearson said.

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