Civil Rights & Mediation Clinic Celebrates Victory on Foreclosure Mediation

An ordinance providing for mortgage loan foreclosure mediation took effect Nov. 16, 2012, following a Nov. 14 Circuit Court of St. Louis County ruling that struck down a legal challenge to the ordinance and dissolved a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). (Click here to view the Circuit Court’s full Judgment and Order.)

The ruling is a victory not only for St. Louis County but also for the law school’s Civil Rights & Mediation Clinic (CRMC). Several clinic students worked on various aspects of the new ordinance, which requires banks to participate in a formal mediation before foreclosing on county residents if the homeowner opts for mediation.  

According to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, as of July 2012, more than 800 homes in St. Louis County were in some phase of foreclosure at that time. The County has experienced approximately 4,000 foreclosures a year for the past seven years, and is on track for 3,500 in 2012.

Karen Tokarz, the Charles Nagel Professor of Public Interest Law & Public Service and director of the CRMC, notes that the clinic students played key roles throughout the process from the initial research on the foreclosure problem across the country to the drafting of the ordinance, media and lobbying efforts, negotiations on amendments to the ordinance, and research on the TRO and the summary judgment motions.

Justin Vail, JD ’12; Katie Crank, JD/MSW ’12, and Ankith Kamaraju, JD ’12, who were in the clinic in fall 2011, were involved in researching and drafting the proposed ordinance, in conjunction with two clinic partners, Beyond Housing and the Equal Housing Opportunity Council (EHOC). The students assisted in the early negotiations with stakeholders and government officials, and Vail co-authored an article with Tokarz, published in the July 2012 St. Louis Bar Journal, “Foreclosure Mediation Programs: A Crucial and Effective Response by States, Cities, and Courts to the Housing Crisis,” that was a major piece of the media advocacy. Tokarz also published an Op-ed, “Mediation of Home Foreclosures Can Work,” in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in late August.

Current clinic student James Maerder, JD ’14, who has been interning with EHOC, aided the County Counselor in research on the litigation and will be assisting US Arbitration & Mediation in the implementation of the program in the spring. Other clinic students have been attending the legislative hearings, talking with stakeholders, and observing court hearings.

“The development, passage, and implementation of this ordinance is a terrific example of the way our law school clinics collaborate with the community to address unmet legal needs. In this case, our clinic worked with homeowners who were being foreclosed upon, housing organizations, loan servicers, the local government, and a local mediation provider  to develop a response to the housing crisis in the St. Louis metro area,” Tokarz says.

Vail adds, “The process was an amazing learning experience for me. I learned in depth about law and public policy, legislative drafting, media advocacy, and community and government relations. This program hopefully will slow down the foreclosure process and prevent some mistakes, benefit both homeowners and lenders, and help the region and the state.”

The key sponsor, St. Louis County Councilwoman Hazel Erby, says she is optimistic that the program will have a transformative effect on St. Louis communities hard-hit by foreclosures. “It is my sincere hope that this new process will keep families in their homes, children in their schools, and neighborhoods intact,” Erby says. “I know it will not save everyone from losing their home. But if we can keep some families from experiencing the heartache of foreclosure, then this program will be a success.”

Ebry adds that she was grateful for the clinic’s help. “It was a wonderful partnership between the community, the law school clinic, and county government that hopefully will benefit families, homeowners, lenders, and investors for many years to come,” she says.

By Timothy J. Fox