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New London attorney Nancy Harrington, one of 21 local lawyers who volunteers to help area homeowners and tenants in foreclosure cases navigate the legal system, had a steady flow of customers during her two-hour stint Wednesday in New London Superior Court.
"So far, what everyone has in common is a bad economy," she said.
Harrington spoke with an older couple whose Social Security payments don't cover their expenses and a woman with two children in college whose husband was laid off. An older man who said a bank had already foreclosed on his property waited in the hallway.
"It just snowballs," Harrington said. "It's not like they went on a trip or a cruise or are lavishly spending."
The Judicial Branch's decision to extend its Foreclosure Volunteer Attorney Program to the New London courthouse that serves southeastern Connecticut has been welcome. The region has been hit hard by the foreclosure crisis. In 2013, there were 1,652 foreclosure cases filed in the New London Judicial District, comprising about 8 percent of the total foreclosures statewide, according to Cheryl Halford, a court planner for the Judicial Branch who coordinates the volunteer program.
The program began three years ago in New Haven and expanded to Hartford, Waterbury, Bridgeport, Stamford and, as of April 9, to New London.
"We've received a great response from the local bar," Halford said. "I applaud their willingness to do it."
One attorney is scheduled each week through the end of the year to meet with self-represented parties. The attorney meets with clients on a first-come, first-served basis to answer legal questions about the foreclosure process.
The program is available to anyone whose property is in foreclosure, though it generally concerns mortgage cases, Halford said. There are no income guidelines. Most people in foreclosure are experiencing economic hardship, so they can't afford a lawyer, and they find the legal process daunting, she said. Homeowners whose primary residences are in mortgage foreclosure are required to take part in a mediation program with their lender and a trained mediator from the Judicial Branch.
At the courthouse Wednesday afternoon, Sharon Purcell and Lindsay Merolo from the clerk's office greeted homeowners, collected basic information and handed them literature about the foreclosure process before Harrington met with them in a conference room. Purcell said her office has been sending fliers to homeowners in newly filed cases and hope also to reach those who might want to talk to somebody prior to being sued.
"The worst thing anyone can do is ignore it," Purcell said.
Harrington, who specializes in immigration law, said she took a training program on foreclosure law and studied the Judicial Branch's literature.
"I'm a problem-solver," she said. "I just help them with the first steps of problem-solving."
One attorney is scheduled each week through the end of the year to meet with self-represented parties from 2 to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays in Room E-309 on the third floor of the courthouse at 70 Huntington St.