CLSMF: Protecting Central
Florida Consumers’ Rights
2015 First Quarter E-Newsletter
A Message From CLSMF Advocacy Director and Deputy Director, Kimberly Sanchez
Consumer protection laws provide individuals with a way to fight back against abusive business practices. Most of these abusive business practices target the elderly, disabled and very poor. However, as the justice gap widens, many more middle income individuals and families are threatened by fraudulent and unfair business practices that take advantage of a consumer’s lack of information or bargaining power. Each of us knows somebody who has been the target or victim of an abusive practice. Below are examples of cases we handle at CLSMF everyday:
All of these and many more outrageous acts are violations of consumer laws that happen every day to Central Floridians. CLSMF is playing a critical role in protecting the rights of those who live and work across our 12 county service area. We, along with our volunteer lawyers, work diligently to right the wrongs of these abusive businesses, and fight hard to obtain justice for consumers.
CLSMF has a network of consumer attorneys who co-counsel or take cases on a contingency basis to assist CLSMF staff and clients. Just last month, three private attorneys met with CLSMF staff to talk about home solicitation, debt collection and mortgage foreclosure abuses. In addition, CLSMF has spearheaded a regional workgroup of legal aid attorneys in our 12 county service area to meet quarterly and discuss cases and strategy. We couldn’t do it without private bar, Florida Bar Foundation and your support. Will you help us, fight back against these abusive practices that affect our most vulnerable populations and increase the cycle of poverty? Please consider supporting us through a gift today or by joining our Volunteer Lawyers Program.
CLSMF Advocating for the Rights of Consumers As consumers, we enjoy specific rights in the marketplace such as accurate information and protection against fraud and harassment by creditors. Under consumer protection law, our attorneys fight fraud, unfair business practices, investigate senior consumer affairs, educate how to avoid scams, protect people’s rights and help residents be more financially stable. We have all found ourselves in complex consumer situations with unfair terms, with no one to turn to. CLSMF is there to offer assistance. Sadly, many Central Floridians live one paycheck away from financial crisis. Knowing this, CLSMF maintains open doors for those low to moderate income individuals who need assistance with consumer problems such as:
CLSMF provides self-help resources including brochures on Consumers’ Rights. You can find our full list of brochures here.
CLSMF Protects A Homeowner from Eviction
CLSMF’s Fair Lending staff assisted a woman in a foreclosure and Landlord/Tenant eviction after her house was sold and the bank filed an eviction action against her. The client only speaks Spanish and she had a very difficult time when trying to discuss her case with the bank, and as a result she lost her home. Often times she would call and bank employees would hang up or were rude to her because of the language barrier.
Eugina came to our office when the Sheriff delivered a Writ of Possession to evict her. This was the final hour for our client, who was terrified of being homeless and having her belongings removed and set on the curb. Alicia Magazu, attorney and Fair Housing Program Manager, immediately contacted the attorneys representing the bank and filed an emergency motion to stop the sheriff. The sad truth was, that during the foreclosure and eviction, Eugina made every single one of her monthly mortgage payments to the same bank that took her house. Despite accepting her money, the bank still took her house. Even more unbelievable, the same bank that tried to make her homeless had given Eugina a full loan modification during the foreclosure action, so she had a valid contract to remain in the home. Because of the quick legal response by CLSMF, the bank dismissed the foreclosure case and stopped the sheriff from making Eugina homeless. Unbelievably, as if it could not get worse for our client, the bank arbitrarily stopped accepting the client’s payments. In conjunction with a private attorney in Fort Lauderdale, CLSMF has filed a lawsuit against the bank for its bad acts. Many major banking and financial institutions have very poor procedures in place for non-English speaking borrowers, and this bank seemed to be no different. The language barrier could have played a role on how the bank handled Eugina’s modification and why she ended up losing her house in the foreclosure sale even though she was current with her payments. Thanks to CLSMF advocates, Eugina remains safely in her home.
Justice Matters to Staff Attorney, Andrea Mosley
When asked why Andrea chose to pursue civil legal aid as her career path, she shares her motivation and reason for her passion lies with her upbringing. When she was a kid, her parents lost their home to foreclosure. Her father hurt his back and couldn’t work his well paying, but physically demanding job at the regional grocery store. His job loss resulted in the loss of their home. During those days, the mortgage company posted a big sign at the home which stated the house was in foreclosure. Andrea remembers sitting at her front window and watching people walk by her house and point.
Andrea’s parents, Andrea and her baby brother had to move into one room in her grandmother’s apartment. Her grandmother lived in public housing. There was no control for the heater and it was hot all the time. The hallways smelled like urine and she hated every minute of it. Andrea’s parents worked two and three jobs, with no car. Eventually they moved into their own apartment and then another house. Her mother worked and earned her college degree. One of her father’s jobs was mopping floors in a fast food restaurant. He told her years later that he didn’t have the luxury of self-pity or being “too good” for a job. He had kids to feed.
That is the reason why Andrea will do everything she can to help but she won’t coddle clients. Andrea shares, “I will help you, help yourself. And that is also why I do what I do. I’ve been there. I don’t have to empathize or imagine. I know. My parents needed help they couldn’t afford it. I know legal aid organizations make all the difference for people who need help but can’t afford to pay for it. I believe I was always meant to work in civil legal aid”.
Read Andrea’s full story here
Bankruptcy and Student Loans Student loans continue to pose a serious problem for many Central Floridians who cannot afford repayment, have attended “sham schools,” or have other reasons for not owing the debt. While not impossible, the legal standard used for discharging student loans in bankruptcy is very high and therefore can be difficult. One must show that that payment of the debt “will impose an undue hardship on you and your dependents.”Read more here
CLSMF Partners with FAMU Law School CLSMF is excited about partnering with FAMU Law School in conducting The Bankruptcy Clinic starting in early January. Kimberly Sanchez, CLSMF’s Advocacy Director and Deputy Director will be providing the leadership and hands on legal experience to students and expose them to the kinds of lawyers, law, and practice critical to shaping the way they think about the provision of legal services. The Bankruptcy Clinic at Florida A&M School of Law offers pro bono legal services to low-income individuals who are considering filing bankruptcy. The classroom component examines bankruptcy law practice and includes instruction in the necessary legal skills and knowledge involved in federal bankruptcy law practice, such as client interviewing, legal analysis, drafting legal documents, arguing motions, professional responsibility, time keeping and various other practice issues. Students participate in “case review” where they share developments and issues in their cases. A discussion of different cases exposes the students to numerous legal, ethical and practice issues. The clinic allows the students to obtain practical lawyering skills before graduation.
Scare Tactics and Fraudulent Selling Practices That Prey on Consumers
“Fears about the purity of our water have increased dramatically in recent years, leading consumers to worry about the safety of their drinking water. News reports of leaking landfills, corroding lead pipes and deterioration of gasoline storage tanks have painted a gloomy picture of toxic wastes, pesticides and other chemicals seeping into both well and municipal water supplies. Although some contaminants have been found in some water supplies, most households using water from public sources should have few concerns. Predictably, some unscrupulous salespeople prey upon concerned consumers by using scare tactics and fraudulent practices to sell their water treatment devices.” Read the full article
The Law Office of Robert W. Murphy Supports CLSMF through Cy Pres When an auto finance class action settlement handled by The Law Office of Robert W. Murphy ended up with unclaimed funds, Attorney Murphy recommended to the Ninth Judicial Court that a portion of these funds be awarded to further advance the mission of equal access to justice. Murphy recognizes the vital role that legal aid plays in the justice system, and with CLSMF’s proven track record in assisting Central Florida’s most vulnerable population, he knew that CLSMF was a superlative choice to receive these funds. To support the work of the organization, the court agreed to grant CLSMF with a generous $13,100 cy pres award from this class action settlement. Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida is an appropriate recipient of both cy pres and court approved settlement funds. Cy Pres and Court Settlement awards will support the free legal assistance CLSMF provides for low-income individuals and families to help them secure or preserve the most basic necessities of life – shelter, food, protection against violence, and subsistence income. Please keep CLSMF in mind when directing a cy pres or court settlement award. For further information, please contact Lori Pampilo Harris at 407-841-7777 x.2122, or [email protected] Read full article
Give the Gift of Justice We are continually scrambling for resources to try to meet the overwhelming need in our communities for help with civil legal problems related to basic needs such as food, shelter and safety. These are seniors, veterans, persons with disabilities—often our neighbors, co-workers, family and friends—who are facing major life issues such as losing a home to foreclosure, consumer scam rip-offs, or domestic violence. The law provides remedies in these types of cases, but remedies are meaningless if you can’t enforce them. CLSMF is usually the only help available for those who cannot afford an attorney. Unlike in criminal court, there is no right to a lawyer in civil cases.
Justice in America is too important to be threatened by a lack of resources. Please consider a gift of justice to someone in need.
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Protecting Central Florida Consumers Rights Lawyer Bob Murphy