By Amaris Elliott-Engel
Of the Legal Staff
A Philadelphia judge and law clerk are participating today in a White House event on access to justice, describing Philadelphia's efforts to improve outcomes for litigants in mortgage foreclosure cases.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Annette M. Rizzo and law clark Rachel K. Gallegos, who works in Rizzo’s court, are part of the official agenda at the “Middle Class Task Force/Access to Justice" event at the White House. Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading the task force, and Laurence Tribe, a Harvard Law School professor now working in the U.S. Department of Justice on access to justice issues, are also scheduled to attend the event, along with Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Attorney General Eric Holder.
Rizzo said when Tribe was the headliner at Philadelphia's Community Legal Services's Breakfast of Champions earlier this year, he came to see Philadelphia's mortgage foreclosure diversion program in action. He was impressed with "the face-to-face, heartfelt negotiations that were going on that brought about solutions," Rizzo said.
Under the program, a conciliation conference for all owner-occupied residences must be held before a sheriff's sale can occur.
The legal complications arising from the bursting of the country's housing market bubble have risen to prominence recently. Some of the affidavits attesting to the ownership of delinquent mortgage loans have turned out to be false or deficient, and there is a widespread fear that mortgage foreclosures could grind to a halt.
Rizzo said there have been Philadelphia cases in which deficient financial paperwork has been raised as a defense, but the program has not seen a wholesale holdup on cases because of the issue.
The New York Times' Charlie Savage reported Thursday evening that Tribe is planning to leave his administration post in early December because of health issues.
UPDATED TO ADD: The American Bar Association announced this afternoon that the first-ever federal agency, private bar collaboration was unveiled at the White House event today. The Department of Labor-American Bar Association program will assist workers with legal complaints related to employment issues and stems out of the Middle Class Task Force. Workers will be referred to lawyers experienced in the Family Medical Leave Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act.