Saturday, July 23, 2011

ASU launching 2 programs to offer help in resolving mortgage woes

Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law will launch a pair of new programs in the coming year to attack the community's home-foreclosure crisis from two distinct angles.

The college's Foreclosure Mediation Unit will put students to work as impartial mediators assisting in the resolution of mortgage-related disputes. The Homeowner Advocacy Unit will allow students to litigate on behalf of victims of illegal mortgage-related activity.

Both programs are funded by a grant from the Arizona Attorney General's Office, ASU officials said. Each has its own distinct mission and will operate independently from the other.

The specific means by which each unit will carry out its mission are still under development, school officials said, but each now has a director at the helm.

Timothy Burr, a commercial real-estate and dispute-resolution lawyer, joined the law school June 1 as director of the Foreclosure Mediation Unit.

Burr has worked previously with law firms including Fennemore Craig and Jennings, Strouss & Salmon, and he also has a financial-consulting background.

Mary Ellen Natale, a public-policy and advocacy lawyer with a diverse career, also started June 1, as director of the Homeowner Advocacy Unit, which is part of the law school's Civil Justice Clinic.

Natale worked most recently for the Legal Aid Society of Rockland County in New York and has previous experience as a professor, lobbyist and congressional aide.

Burr said the Foreclosure Mediation Unit is scheduled to open in spring 2012.

In addition to providing students with opportunities to learn about and practice in the field of foreclosure mediation, the unit also will be working with real borrowers and lenders, he said.

Burr stressed that the unit would be impartial and would not be acting on behalf of any one party in a dispute.

"We don't have an agenda, other than to facilitate the process," he said.

Natale said the Homeowner Advocacy Unit's role would be quite different, as its name suggests. It is scheduled to open this fall, she said.

Its mission will include community outreach to educate homeowners about their legal rights, she said, and it also will litigate real cases on behalf of homeowners who are victims of legal wrongdoing.

Natale said the legal system allowed law students under the supervision of law-school faculty to litigate real cases, which is exactly what participants in Homeowner Advocacy Unit programs would be doing.

While no specific criteria have been established, Natale said her unit would consider pursuing any type of case in which a homeowner has been wronged.

"That's going to be based on the facts of the cases that we see," she said.

The dollar amount of the grant was not available Friday, ASU officials said. But Burr said the money from the Attorney General's Office would fund the operations of both units for up to three years.

He noted that, by their very nature, the programs were not meant to be permanent additions to the law school.

"Nothing would make us happier than to no longer be necessary," Burr said.

by J. Craig Anderson The Arizona Republic Jul. 22, 2011 03:03 PM

ASU launching 2 programs to offer help in resolving mortgage woes

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