In announcing the 2007 creation of the Foreclosure Task Force by the Board of Directors of the Hampden County (Massachusetts) Bar Association, the then President, Thomas A. Kenefick, III, noted that as members of the Association “we have a singular opportunity by virtue of our education and training to be at the forefront of change, whether it be a commitment to accept unpopular causes and/or otherwise being prepared to act when conditions arise that need redress.” Attorney Eugene B. Berman, the proponent of the Foreclosure Task Force, was appointed Chair and has served in that capacity since its formation.
The Task Force exists for the several purposes of recruiting volunteer lawyers willing to provide pro bono and reduced fee legal services to individuals residing in the four Western Massachusetts Counties of Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin and Berkshire facing the foreclosure of their owner occupied residences, providing training and educational programs to supplement and improve the professional skills of those undertaking the representation of homeowners whose residences are subject to foreclosure, developing a workable model for the delivery of such services and making the availability of such services known to those in need of such representation.
The Task Force looked first for volunteers from members of the Business and Bankruptcy Committee of the Hampden County Bar Association chaired by Attorney Justin H. Dion. With an initial cadre of some twenty-five volunteers, the Task Force initiated the cremation of the (Western Massachusetts) Alliance of Providers of Legal Services to Individuals Facing Foreclosure that brought together in an ex officio working coalition the Hampden County Bar Association and the non-profit organizations such as Western Mass. Legal Services, the Mass Justice Project, Mass Fair Housing and others in an effort to develop a model to effectively deliver the legal services that had been assembled. Attorney Berman was elected Chair of the Alliance and continues to serve in that capacity.
The Foreclosure Task Force and the Alliance cooperatively established a Hotline (413-322-7404) that individual homeowners with foreclosure issues could call for referral to an attorney who would provide free initial consultation. The Hotline is maintained and serviced by the staff of the Massachusetts Justice Project who “triage” the callers as to their eligibility for free legal services within the purvey of the legal services organizations or alternative referral to Hampden County Legal Services (maintained by the Hampden County Bar Association) for referral to one of the Foreclosure Task Force Volunteers and to determine the urgency of the need. The situations presented by the callers are analyzed to assure that the caller is referred to an attorney best qualified to undertake the representation required. The attorney volunteers are, in appropriate cases, encouraged to refer individuals to non-lawyer services such as credit counselors at HAP Housing or neighborhood community groups where legal services may not as yet be required and such alternative services may be helpful. The volunteer attorneys are likewise encouraged to call upon the expertise of monitors to assist them and to refer appropriate cases to others who have specialized skills that may be required in the representation of the individual, prospective client.
Together the Task Force and the Alliance have conducted telethons whereby a group of volunteer attorneys are assembled for a given period to field call-ins from individuals seeking information and/or advice. By widely publicizing the telethons, the Task Force and the Alliance has been able to service many individuals who would otherwise have no other place to turn for information or referral.
With the endorsement of Mayor Dominic J. Sarno of the City of Springfield and the support of the Mayors of the cities of Western Massachusetts, the Task Force and the Alliance convened a Legislative Breakfast to which all members of the Western Massachusetts delegation to the State Senate and House of Representatives as well as the legislative leadership were invited to hear presentations as to the severity of the foreclosure crisis, the consequences of the crisis to individuals, families and neighborhoods, the services being offered by the Task Force and Alliance and to explore legislative options to address the crisis. The event was a success in that the Western Mass delegation voted overwhelmingly in support of legislation designed to help alleviate the plight of those being foreclosed upon. The “Advocacy” section of the website enumerates those legislative actions that many individual members of the Task Force and of the Alliance believe are necessary to responsibly address the foreclosure crisis.
The Foreclosure Task Force has developed a strong, cooperative working relationship with the Massachusetts Bar Association in developing OnDemand continuing educational programs addressing issues relevant to the representation of individuals facing foreclosure. The Task Force has been insistent that all such programs be free and open to all members of the bar. It is a fundamental tenant that the Task Force has no proprietary interest in assuring that all attorneys are provided an opportunity and training that will better allow them to provide representation to those needing representation when faced with foreclosure.
The Task Force, in continuing partnership with the Alliance has designed and presents this website for use by its constituencies.