January Volunteer Feature: The City Bar Justice Center Honors R. Diego Velazquez for Work on Behalf of Client Facing Foreclosure
Mr. L was one of the very first clients to be seen by the Lawyers Foreclosure Intervention Network when it opened its doors in the summer of 2008. Referred to the project by Justice Alice Schlesinger, he was in serious arrears on both his mortgage and the common charges on his condominium, and there did not appear to be much hope for him. Diego Velazquez, whose regular practice consists of commercial litigation and insurance defense, had never handled a foreclosure matter before, but newly trained by the project, he agreed to take Mr. L's case.
Mr. L is a 70-year old single man who bought a subsidized condominium in Harlem in 2005 after a year on a waiting list and winning a name-selection lottery. He works for the postal service and was earning a salary that covered his expenses until he was injured and placed on limited duty. With a reduced salary, he fell behind on his bills and refinanced his mortgage in response to a solicitation from a mortgage broker. He was the victim of a bait-and-switch, the mortgage was subprime and unaffordable from the beginning, and he quickly went into foreclosure.
By the time Diego got the case, the bank's motion for a judgment of foreclosure and sale was pending, and Mr. L's finances were a mess. "What happened next is an example of how justice is done when you have a good judge and a good advocate," says Lynn Armentrout, Director of the Lawyers Foreclosure Intervention Network. Over the course of the following year, the judge allowed the parties to repeatedly adjourn the matter while Diego worked with the client on his budget and with the condominium to deal with the common charges as well.
Incredibly, Diego got the bank to agree to a very favorable loan modification that allows Mr. L to stay in the condominium, and he did it without the benefit of the federal modification program, which had not yet been enacted. "Given how little leverage he had, it's an amazing result; we had assumed from the beginning that the client was going to have to sell the apartment," says Lynn. "Diego spent countless hours on the matter and made repeated court appearances, but what was most impressive was his holistic approach. He made it his goal to keep the client in his home, which involved dealing with a host of financial issues beyond the foreclosure."
"It was great working with the City Bar Justice Center," says Diego. "The program serves as a very useful resource, and I would absolutely take on another case in the future. I think it's important to include pro bono work as a part of an attorney's regular practice."
The Justice Center's foreclosure project looks forward to Diego's next representation as well. Praises for his work don't stop at his client and Justice Center staff, however. "I spoke with Justice Schlesinger's court attorney a few months ago," says Lynn Armentrout, "and she told me that the Justice thinks the world of Diego, and that he did a fantastic job on this case."
Against all odds, Mr. L is still living in the condo he bought in 2005, and the City Bar Justice Center is honored to recognize Diego for the work that made this possible.