Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. For decades, the civil justice clinic at ASU's Sandra Day O'Connor school of law has given students an opportunity to gain real life experience by representing clients on a pro bono basis. This fall, the clinic is adding a homeowner advocacy unit to provide legal services to people facing mortgage fraud and wrongful foreclosure. Joining me to talk about the service is Mary Ellen Natale, director of the new homeowner advocacy unit. Barbara Strnad, a third year ASU law student. And Kyle Robertson, also a third year law student at ASU. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us
All: Thanks for having us.
Ted Simons: I kind of gave an overview here. What are we talking about with this service, this unit?
Mary Ellen Natale: We're very excited about this new program. Over the next three years, we're going to be educating between 80 and 90 law students how to represent homeowners who are faced with wrongful foreclosure of their home. It's a new project, we're excited and provides students with hands on experience and provide a much needed service to the community.
Ted Simons: Talk about the role of student attorneys in this particular case.
Mary Ellen Natale: Well the student attorneys will be representing clients under the supervision of faculty members. So the clients get a benefit of a whole team of expertise and the students have the opportunity for the one-on-one client interaction and the opportunity to represent the clients in a hands on basis and get the real world experience.
Ted Simons: We're talking about foreclosure fraud, how far does something have to be wrong for you guys to step on in?
Mary Ellen Natale: Well there are a lot of ways in which homeowners are being wronged, unfortunately . Some of the cases we'll be taking are for instance people in a mortgage modification who have been making places and yet their homes still scheduled for foreclosure sale. Those are some of the homeowners we have been and will be representing in the project.
Ted Simons: And litigating the process? Going the whole nine yards here?
Mary Ellen Natale: Well, we hope many of the cases can be resolved without litigation. Litigation, of course, is always a last resort but we do expect we may need to file suit for homeowners whom the problem can’t be resolved without litigation. In that event, some cases may settle early on, some may end up being longer term but the students involved every step.
Ted Simons: Barbara, you got involved with this, why?
Barbara Strnad: I got involved in the clinic for two reasons and in this homeowner advocacy unit specifically for two reasons. The first is because I believe it provides me an opportunity to get some hands-on experience to work with clients, to potentially get the opportunity to actually go to court to be someone’s lawyer and I feel that's invaluable for when after I graduate and pass the bar and actually get to be a full attorney. And the second reason is because I feel that this is really rewarding. It gives a lot back to the community. We know that people are in crisis dealing with foreclosures. Dealing with modifications gone wrong. Banks doing things that maybe they shouldn't and so we're providing a great service and helping our community.
Ted Simons: Kyle, what got you interested in this service?
Kyle Robertson: I first became interested between my first and second year of law school. Working for the United States bankruptcy court and being there, I saw sometimes 24 foreclosures a day come through the bankruptcy court and it was a vast disconnect between the knowledge of the homeowner and the knowledge of the bank. And there wasn't a party in between to negotiate this. To settle this. And to make the best outcome for everyone involved in the situation. So I wanted to find a way that I could help and this is a perfect avenue to do that.
Ted Simons: With that in mind, what kind of cases are you expecting to see? What situations and problems are you expecting to solve?
Kyle Robertson: Well, the number of problems and the type of cases we'll take will be vast. I mean, it really is mortgages and the mortgage securitization process and everything going on is extremely complicated. So we're here to help people from step one to step 10 and there's probably a lot of steps in between and that's what I'm expecting, a vast array.
Ted Simons: Same question for you Barbara. Is there something you're interested in doing. Are you expecting to be surprised once you find these cases and start working on them?
Barbara Strnad: Well, actually we've already started a little bit of work. We're only a week into school and Kyle and I are already working on a case together. It's a couple who came in. Through their bank, through their mortgage lender, they went through the modification process, went through trial modification payments which means they have to make three payments in a row and on time and the couple did that. After that, they're supposed to be put into a permanent modification for their loan and happy on down the road, unfortunately what we've seen happen is they've not been placed in the permanent modification program and their home is still set for foreclosure. So that’s one of the big type of cases we’re working with. Those are the people who don't belong in foreclosure and those the people we're hoping to help.
Ted Simons: How are clients chosen for the program?
Mary Ellen Natale: We work very closely with our community partners and we receive referrals from agencies who know the type of cases we're taking and working with the Arizona foreclosure taskforce and also get references not only from the taskforce but the member agencies, agencies such as neighborhood housing services and community legal services. So they refer clients to us because they know the types of cases we're able to take. We have a waiting list of clients who need our services.
Ted Simons: I was going to ask that. You know, how does this fill a particular need? Are there simply not enough trained professionals out there to represent these people?
Mary Ellen Natale: Unfortunately There are not enough professionals who are able to represent people who -- well, the people don't have the means to hire private counsel. There are a lot private attorneys who would want to help, but homeowners face can foreclose just don't have the money to retain them they just don’t have the money. What our project will do is educate 80-90 new homeowner advocates who can take these cases, maybe as part of what they'll be doing for the bulk of their practice, maybe as a pro bono case, but it will provide not only resources for the homeowners during the life of the project, but each student attorney that’s working in our clinic will have those skills and knowledge and experience to take with them.
Ted Simons: And that experience -- you mentioned that's one of the things you were looking for was to get that experience. When you go from here, will something like mortgage issues and banking issue and financial issues be what you're looking at?
Barbara Strnad: Unfortunately, even in the law and the legal environment we know that the market is tough. I know going out next year after graduation, I may not be able to pick and choose, but after even just starting this experience, I know it's an area of law if someone offered me a job, I think it's a rewarding area and I would jump at the chance.
Ted Simons: If you could pick and choose, obviously you have a little background and interest in this before the program started, is this the avenue you would take?
Kyle Robertson: I think I'm very interested in litigation and I have a background in this kind of thing so it's definitely an avenue I want to pursue. And even if a student isn't pursuing this type of avenue, there's things you can't learn in a textbook, can’t learn in class. And this clinic helps you deal with a client who is facing a tough situation.
Ted Simons: How important are these training clinics for these budding lawyers? These people are going to be out there in the workplace and doing this work in the future. How important is it doing this kind of work now?
Mary Ellen Natale: It's important giving the experience and representing clients. It's a wonderful complement to the classroom experience that the student attorneys get. It provides a holistic education, it provides the knowledge they get in the classroom and the skills that will be provided in the clinic to make them effective advocates for their clients.
Ted Simons: This includes outreach and CLE, correct?
Mary Ellen Natale: It does. One very important part of our project is for the students to be out in the community working on community education and outreach and letting homeowners know what resources are available to them to help them prevent foreclosure and help them deal with foreclosure once they're facing it.
Ted Simons: And I believe the Arizona attorney general's office is supplying a grant for this program, is this true?
Mary Ellen Natale: That's true. We received the grant from the attorney general’s office. It's allowing us to implement this wonderful program and we're excited about the whole initiative.
Ted Simons: When you're finished with the whole initiative, what do you want to leave with? What do you -- do you want to leave knowing you've helped someone? Obviously, you want that a little bit. Also want to get education as well. What do you hope to learn?
Barbara Strnad: I think personally, you know, obviously, I'm excited about the work we do for the community and what we provide. Personally, as you go out and you're a baby attorney, we call them, I think one of the big things that people lack is practical experience and confidence. And I think getting this hands-on experience, being someone's student attorney will provide both of those things for me.
Ted Simons: What do you think you'll learn out of all of this?
Kyle Robertson: I think when you're faced with a difficult situation like this, especially in the law, it's easy to become jaded and I think if we can be successful helping a few people, that will give me a lot of confidence in my career.
Ted Simons: Very good. For those homeowners who think they can use the help, how can they get in touch with you guys?
Mary Ellen Natale: They should contact the Arizona foreclosure prevention taskforce. It has a hotline and a website and that hotline will provide them with the resources they need and again if we're able to take the case, their case may be referred to us.
Ted Simons: And again that's the Arizona foreclosure –
Mary Ellen Natale: Prevention hotline.
Ted Simons: Prevention hotline. Good luck to both of you. Thank you for joining us on "Horizon."
All: Thank you for having us.