Denver Bar Association
March 2009
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Thanks for Saving My Dad's Home

by Mark Fogg

She was going to lose the house that she inherited from her father. The property taxes had not been paid in three years, the utilities were turned off for non-payment and the place was deteriorating from a lack of repairs because the little money she had was spent on food and clothing. On top of this, she suffered a major stroke at the age of 62, from which she had only partially recovered.

She had nowhere to turn. A friend suggested that she contact Metro Volunteer Lawyers. A young, recent law school grad, Jessen Gregory, volunteered to take the case. Jessen mainly practiced corporate law, working with her father and mentor, Jim Gregory, who practiced tax law. She was raised in a family with a spirit of volunteerism partially born of tragedy. Her sister had died from SIDS and the family had always remained very active in raising money for the SIDS program, now known as Angel Eyes. Her father also consistently supported Metro Volunteer Lawyers over the years, and he had volunteered to handle several tax-oriented disputes.

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These small acts of volunteering make lasting,
positive impressions on people about lawyers.

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Jessen made a lot of calls and took several steps to assist her client. Unlike her client, she knew what had to be done and she could do it in a fraction of the time that it would have taken this partially disabled woman. It was determined that a reverse mortgage was the best route to pay the back taxes. Jessen petitioned the court for title in her client’s name. She determined her social security benefits for disability and helped fill out financial applications. She helped get an appraisal of the house and had the utilities turned back on. A very helpful clerk in the assessor’s office knew the man who had purchased the taxes. The clerk contacted the man for Jessen, and this honorable person committed to hold off on a tax sale to allow Jessen time to work through the process. The bank representative helped the client with a reverse mortgage application. The taxes got paid, the title was secured and the client even began to receive a significant monthly payment that drastically improved her quality of life.

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...Four out of five legal issues continue to go unresolved,
resulting in the destabilization of families and the draining of
valuable judicial resources.

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Jessen says that it was not just the gratitude of her client that made this success meaningful. All along the way, she was impressed with the compassion displayed by individuals within the system to help this lady. "Nobody wanted her to lose her home," Jessen said.

Access-to-justice issues thwart stability in many individuals’ everyday lives. An abusive former partner can legally leave the state or country with their shared child when no court order has been secured to prevent it. A disabled person struggles without any social security benefits. A single parent can’t even begin to apply for Section 8 housing without a showing that he or she is the primary residential parent for their children. A person with a minor arrest record can’t get a job. These are examples of cases awaiting a volunteer attorney.

We often forget, or fail to appreciate, the major impact that we as attorneys can have on other peoples’ lives, sometimes based on only a very minimal time commitment. When I first volunteered to field calls at LawLine 9, I was a little intimidated, because I am pretty specialized in my legal practice and I thought I would sound like an idiot on domestic relations cases or real estate issues. I soon learned that many people just need somebody to talk to in working through their issues. I especially remember a poignant conversation with an elderly lady last year who had just lost her husband of 52 years. She had no idea of what to do about the estate. We talked quite a while about her husband and the rest of her family. Thankfully, I was provided with great referral resources from Lawline 9, so I also could significantly help her with the estate issues. These small acts of volunteering make lasting, positive impressions on people about lawyers.

Jessen Gregory

Metro Volunteer Lawyers connects volunteer attorneys to persons in need of legal assistance who are financially eligible. Currently, this means earnings of less than 125 percent of the poverty level. Areas of assistance include family law, debts, bankruptcy, consumer issues, estate planning, probate, immigration, tort defense, landlord/tenant and tax issues. In 2008, MVL helped assist approximately 2,000 needy community members through 238 volunteer legal professionals. Supporting bar associations of MVL include Denver, Arapahoe, Adams/Broomfield, the First Judicial District and Douglas/Elbert.

However, in a recent letter from MVL to regional attorneys, MVL Executive Director Dianne Van Voorhees points out that, "…only one in five legal issues experienced by poor people is addressed with the assistance of legal services." This means that four out of five legal issues continue to go unresolved, resulting in the destabilization of families and the draining of valuable judicial resources. In addition, the number of people financially eligible for MVL services has increased significantly since 1980.

Pro bono work often gets pushed to the bottom of the list during tough economic times for lawyers. But consider the effect of these tough economic times on the poor. Especially in hard times like these, lawyers must step up and assist the needy. Take a case, volunteer for a program, save a home.


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