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Oklahoma program gives lawyers training on foreclosure assistance

Thursday, December 06, 2012

  • Cary Aspinwall
  • Tulsa World

Armed with free training, Oklahoma attorneys can now assist homeowners facing foreclosure and receive up to $5,000 for their services through the attorney general's settlement fund.

On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Bar Association presented training in Tulsa on assisting Oklahomans facing foreclosure, and attorneys who attended received five hours of mandatory continuing legal education credit, with tuition paid by the Oklahoma mortgage settlement fund.

"There's a real opportunity here to do some good and keep people in their homes," Tulsa attorney David Humphreys said while leading a session on defending home-owners against foreclosure. "And you'll get paid to do it through this program."

For the more than 100 attorneys who attended, Humphreys' law partner, Luke Wallace, described how during the foreclosure crisis, homeowners often found the deck stacked against them - even when they were trying to make payments and do the right thing.

"It's an incredibly distorted system," Wallace said. "That's why you're here. We need soldiers out there to help these people because they've been wronged."

Earlier this year, Attorney General Scott Pruitt turned down a projected $28 million in other forms of homeowner assistance when he opted Oklahoma out of the National Mortgage Settlement.

Bank of America, Citi Mortgage, Ally Financial (formerly GMAC Mortgage), J.P. Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo agreed to the national settlement with 49 other states to resolve allegations that they had engaged in improper mortgage servicing practices, such as dual-tracking and robo-signing.

Pruitt instead decided to use the state's $18.6 million direct payment to provide "real and substantial relief" to residents harmed by those mortgage industry practices, arguing that the national settlement strayed too far into becoming housing policy.

Homeowners who applied for Pruitt's settlement program by the September deadline and provided documentation that they had been victims of such practices have started receiving compensation checks of anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000.

But as fewer than 750 people applied for the compensation, it is projected that only $3 to $4 million of the $18.6 million settlement will be used for the direct payments, though the Attorney General's office has said it may consider new applications in 2013.

The other branch of the program, called Resolution Oklahoma, focuses on legal assistance for low-income individuals, seniors, veterans and homeowners in financial distress.

Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma received $1.275 million to provide legal representation to lower income families and seniors who have foreclosure and modification-related legal issues.

An estimated $37,000 will be spent on training for attorneys through the Oklahoma Bar Association partnership. Homeowners can also hire the attorney of their choice for foreclosure defense or mortgage modification assistance with the fund paying up to $5,000 of their attorneys' fees through a voucher program.

Homeowners do not have to be behind on their payments to apply for the voucher program, Assistant Attorney General Julie Bays said.

"Our goal is to keep families in their homes," Bays said.

Broken Arrow attorney Phillip Taylor said the free training for lawyers was helpful (normally, continuing legal education seminars can cost about $275, he said), but the voucher system would really benefit home owners.

"We've got clients who have access to the court system now," he said.

He specializes in foreclosure defense and tries to keep costs down to assist home-owners facing financial challenges, he said.

However, he is concerned about other attorneys without foreclosure defense experience jumping into the process, possibly lured by free training and voucher payments, he said.

The state has already seen examples of individuals who weren't attorneys misrepresenting themselves to provide "assistance" to home-owners facing foreclosure, the attorney general's office said.

Resolution Oklahoma will also provide $50,000 to the Oklahoma Bar Association to fund investigation and prosecution of anyone falsely representing that they are attorneys who can save Oklahomans from foreclosure.

Resolution Oklahoma
Legal help for homeowners struggling with foreclosure is available now.

The voucher form for legal assistance is on the attorney general's website at this page

Homeowners without Internet access can request assistance by calling 405-521-3921.

Low-income homeowners who need assistance can call Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma at 1-888-534-5243.Image:  Adrienne Watt, Director of Advocacy, Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma

Legal Aid encourages homeowners to call and let their counselors determine if someone fits their income requirements for free assistance, said Adrienne Watt, director of advocacy (pictured to the right),

Homeowners don't need to be in foreclosure to apply, she said.

"We're very excited to be able to keep people in their homes," Watt said. "Err on the side of calling us if they're not sure."

By CARY ASPINWALL World Staff Writer
Published: 12/6/2012  1:57 AM
Last Modified: 12/6/2012  7:25 AM



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