While defendants in criminal cases are guaranteed lawyers, folks involved in foreclosure cases either have to go out of pocket for a lawyer or try to fend for themselves. Now the state of New York has become the first state to guarantee legal representation to all residents involved in foreclosures.
In the coming weeks, Queens County in NYC and Orange County will be the first locales to offer the gratis attorneys. The program will then roll out statewide.
Chief Judge of the NY Court of Appeals Jonathan Lippman called the current system “an uneven playing field…. Banks wind up with the property and the homeowner winds up over the cliff, on the street… It doesn’t serve anyone’s interest, including the bank’s.”
Referencing the 1963 Supreme Court decision requiring states to provide legal representation for criminal defendants, Lippmann added, “Today it is an 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.”
New York, with 80,000 active foreclosure cases, is one of the 23 states where foreclosures must be overseen by a judge. The legal aid groups in many of those states say they lack money or lawyers to help everyone.
“There’s a huge demand,” said the Legal Aid Society’s attorney in chief. “The new model is focused on redeploying resources to attempt to take more of an early intervention in the case rather than at the 11th hour when the sheriff is on the way.”