John A. Morris

John A. Morris

Two years ago John A. Morris was diagnosed with ALS – often called Lou Gehrig’s disease. Around the same time, he lost his job. He immediately applied for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and was quickly approved, but was unable to collect any benefits because of a mandatory five-month waiting period.

This statutorily-mandated waiting period became a major factor in Mr. Morris’ sudden financial hardship. Once his savings were depleted, he fell behind on his mortgage payments and was sued for foreclosure.

Mr. Morris found an advocate in Legal Aid Consumer Unit Supervising Attorney Jennifer Lavallee. The Consumer Unit is dedicated to helping economically vulnerable DC homeowners avoid the destabilizing effects of foreclosure and save their homes. Jen helped Mr. Morris navigate the complicated procedures in his mortgage foreclosure case. Ultimately, Mr. Morris was approved for a loan modification with monthly payments that were affordable on his fixed income.

“Why do I have to wait five months? … Some people don’t have five months. Some people don’t have two months. We need our money now.”

Since his diagnosis and his experience waiting for SSDI, Mr. Morris has worked alongside members of Congress to push for the ALS Disability Insurance Access Act of 2019, a bill that would waive the waiting period for people with ALS to receive their SSDI benefits.

As Mr. Morris put it, “I’m going to Capitol Hill to say, ‘You need to sign this thing, so this doesn’t happen to other people because there’s no reason for that.'”

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Jeffrey Trull

In coalition with other advocates, Legal Aid successfully pushed for a legislative reform at the DC Council to end the unfair suspension of driver’s licenses for nonpayment of certain types of civil judgments. The new law will have a huge impact on people like Jeffrey Trull.

With experience in construction and repair work, Mr. Trull’s employment has long depended on his ability to drive a truck. So when he realized he could not renew his driver’s license because of an old unpaid civil judgment entered eleven years ago, he knew his livelihood was at stake.

“Legal Aid came to my rescue.”

The judgment at issue was the result of a small claims case filed by an insurance company for damage from a car accident. But Mr. Trull had never known about the case — he had allegedly been served at an address he had moved away from several years earlier. He came to Legal Aid for assistance, and we helped him get the judgment vacated and the case dismissed.

With the judgment vacated, the court case behind him, and the barrier to getting his driver’s license removed, Mr. Trull was able to start a new full-time job and steer his life forward once again. And with the recent legislative reform, others like Mr. Trull will no longer have their licenses unfairly suspended in the first place.

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Ruby Short

In 1995, Ruby Short achieved her dream of buying a small home to settle down in with her family. Ms. Short faithfully paid her mortgage every month for more than two decades but then faced a temporary financial setback, causing her to fall behind on the payments. Ms. Short sought a loan modification, but her request was denied on the ostensible basis that she could only receive a modification every 24 months.

However, Ms. Short had not received a modification within this 24-month period. The mortgage company, due to their own error, mistakenly denied her application, leaving her on the brink of foreclosure.

“He’s my angel.”

Legal Aid Consumer Unit Staff Attorney Zack Hill successfully appealed the denial Ms. Short had received and she became the recipient of both a loan modification and funds from a federal mortgage assistance program. With the foreclosure case dismissed, Ms. Short is now able to make affordable monthly payments going forward. Ms. Short is no longer in danger of foreclosure and can sleep easy knowing her home is safe.

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Ana Mejia Romero

Ana Mejia Romero dreamed of settling down with her family – her husband, five-year-old daughter, and elderly mother – and owning a little home. In 2007, after working for years, often seven days a week, that dream became a reality when she finally bought her own house.

Like many homebuyers during this time — particularly low-income people of color — Ms. Meija Romero was targeted by a subprime mortgage lender and, unbeknownst to her, the two mortgage loans she received had predatory features. Ms. Mejia Romero made her payments on time for a number of years, but then fell behind. Not only did her mortgage payments increase substantially, up to $5,000 per month, but after the birth of her daughter, Ms. Mejia Romero’s income shrank while she cared for her newborn.

“It was so frustrating that I could barely sleep.”

Ms. Mejia Romero’s dream was quickly becoming a nightmare as she faced foreclosure. After her first lawyer failed to show up at her court date, Ms. Mejia Romero met Consumer Law Unit staff attorney Jenny Joseph through Legal Aid’s courthouse project. With Jenny’s help, Ms. Mejia Romero not only avoided foreclosure, but obtained a loan modification that enabled her to bring her mortgage current and make affordable monthly payments going forward.

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Kendra Richardson

Kendra Richardson, a resident of Ward 8, found herself in DC Small Claims Court facing a potentially devastating debt collection case. Ms. Richardson’s landlord had sued her for thousands of dollars of supposed unpaid rent – even though Ms. Richardson had been forced to move because the landlord would not address the horrific bed-bug infestation in her unit.

“Legal Aid helped me. So many others need that same help.”

At the courthouse, Ms. Richardson met Tom Papson, a Legal Aid volunteer staff attorney in our Consumer Law Unit and one of the 2018 Servant of Justice Awards Honorees. Tom found that the landlord had been charging Ms. Richardson illegal late fees on top of ignoring her requests for exterminating the bed bugs. Confronted with the clear violations of law and improper conduct, the landlord agreed to drop its claims and pay Ms. Richardson what she was due.

Today, Ms. Richardson is finally free from legal entanglements with this landlord and able to move on with her life. She works as a Patient Services Assistant in the Operating Room at Washington Hospital and is in school to become a surgical tech. But perhaps most importantly, she has a new bed bug-free apartment.

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Wilmar and Alba Funes

Alba and Wilmar Funes, both monolingual Spanish-speakers, had owned their home for more than a decade, raising three sons and a daughter there. Several years ago, they were approached by a scammer who offered to help them obtain a loan modification, paying him $6,000 up front. The scammer then told Mr. and Mrs. Funes that he had indeed secured the loan modification and began sending them monthly “statements.” Mr. and Mrs. Funes conscientiously paid the scammer every month for three years—more than $50,000 in all—believing he was forwarding their money to their lender.

When Mr. and Mrs. Funes were sued for foreclosure, the scammer assured them everything was fine. By the time they realized that something was amiss, a default judgment had already been entered, making a foreclosure sale imminent.

“We were so worried about losing the house we had lived in for 18 years. We were so relieved when we won.”

Mr. and Mrs. Funes met with Legal Aid consumer law attorney (and fluent Spanish speaker) Jenny Joseph when they went to court for the first time. Jenny successfully argued that the judgment should be vacated because of the fraud that had been committed against Mr. and Mrs. Funes. Legal Aid then helped them obtain a loan modification that enabled them to bring their mortgage current and make affordable monthly payments going forward.

As for the scammer—he was arrested in another jurisdiction and is facing criminal charges. But even as that matter remains pending, Mr. and Mrs. Funes have already found solace in the resolution of their civil foreclosure case, telling us, “We’re just happy we’ll be able to live in our home and keep our home because of Jenny.”

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Donna Williams

Donna Williams is a single, working mother with a 16-year-old daughter. After saving for many years, she was able to buy a home in Congress Heights. On the very night of the closing, Ms. Williams and her daughter were so overjoyed they slept on the floor of their new, not-yet-furnished home.

Unfortunately, Ms. Williams fell behind on her mortgage payments when a blood clot left her with unforeseen medical expenses. She eventually hired a law firm that promised to help her avoid foreclosure, including through litigation. But when her lender filed a foreclosure action, her lawyers failed to appear in court or do anything to defend her case.

One day, a stranger came to Ms. Williams’ door and informed her that he had purchased her home at a foreclosure auction. She soon learned that the sale had occurred after a default judgment was entered against her in the foreclosure case. The law firm she had retained, and been paying for a year, had wholly failed her.

“You buy your home. You own your home. You don’t want to lose your home.”

Ms. Williams came to Legal Aid for help. First, Legal Aid prevented Ms. Williams from being forced out of her home by the auction purchaser. Next, consumer law attorney Jennifer Lavallee successfully argued that Ms. Williams had never been properly served in the case. The judge agreed, vacating the default judgment and reversing the foreclosure sale. Legal Aid then helped Ms. Williams secure a loan modification that lowered her interest rate and brought her mortgage to current status.

Finally, Legal Aid volunteer staff attorney Tom Papson and pro bono attorney and former Servant of Justice Awards honoree Andy Marks helped Ms. Williams bring a malpractice action against her previous lawyers. That matter has since settled, and Ms. Williams and her daughter can again enjoy peace of mind about the place they so proudly call home.

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Meteryne Dinkins

Meteryne Dinkins, pictured here and on the cover, is a Legal Aid client and the beneficiary of financial coaching services that were made available to her when she came to our office. Ms. Dinkins, a 72-year-old resident of Ward 4, came to us after having recently retired due to health problems. After receiving financial coaching from our CFPB partner, who worked in collaboration with attorneys in our Consumer and Public Benefits Units, Ms. Dinkins secured a loan modification to preserve ownership of her home and improved her financial circumstances in a multitude of other ways.

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Douglas Coleman

Douglas Coleman is convinced that he would have lost his Northeast DC home but for Legal Aid. He had fallen behind on his mortgage after a series of hardships, including having to resign from his job of more than two decades with the federal government in order to take care of his ill father. When he was eventually able to work again, he went into overdrive trying to make ends meet—working at a food truck by day, a hospital by night, and several other part-time jobs. But by then, getting back on track with his mortgage—a subprime loan originated at the height of the housing boom—seemed impossible. The mortgage company had sued him for foreclosure in DC Superior Court and was poised to get a judgment on the day he met Legal Aid in court.

Fortunately, things started to turn around after that. With the help of new foreclosure procedures established by the Court and representation by an experienced Legal Aid advocate, Mr. Coleman was able to save his home by securing a loan modification that brought him completely current on his mortgage. And with the weight of his foreclosure case off his chest (and just in time), he was able to fly out to California to see his oldest daughter graduate from Stanford.

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Joyce Williams

Joyce Williams*, a single mother of two, had spent an entire winter shivering, trying to keep her family warm with just electric space heaters. Her gas had been turned off in a billing dispute — and the gas company was taking a hard line: it would not reinstate service until the entire balance was paid in full. Fortunately, with the benefit of Legal Aid representation, the company relented in early December, just in time to heat Ms. Williams’s apartment during the winter’s record-breaking freezing temperatures.

*Name changed to protect client confidentiality.

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