John Gabel is a recipient of the 2010 Maryland Pro Bono Service Award. The award is given to four members of the Maryland Bar who have demonstrated outstanding commitments to pro bono service for those in need. You can find more about the awards here.
Mr. Gabel was recognized for his exemplary work in representing homeowners facing foreclosure. Mr. Gabel was one of the first attorneys to be trained in foreclosure defense through the Foreclosure Prevention Pro Bono Project in answer to the call of Robert Bell, the Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals. Some of Mr. Gabel’s efforts were described in a Maryland State Bar Journal article on foreclosures in September of 2009. In that article Mr. Gabel described his rewards for doing this work simply:
“Knowing that you have helped a family who has worked hard to retain their home is very rewarding – you have given them back their American dream.”
Mr. Gabel is continuing his dedication to serving the needs of Maryland citizens not only through the Foreclosure Prevention Pro Bono Project, but also through the new Maryland Mortgage Fraud Prevention Project. We wish him all success in his efforts as he continues to work to protect Maryland homeowners.
The Maryland Mortgage Fraud Prevention Project finally went live in late April. Gabel Legal Services attorney, John Gabel, was the first attorney to take the first client under this new program to help first time homebuyers in Maryland. There are many issues facing first time homebuyers in the current housing market. First time homebuyers need to learn about the “normal” issues about their contracts, the nature of their investment, and legal issues related to the property. An additional set of considerations in the current market are issues related to short sales, REO purchases, the often highly exploitive REO addenda that banks are using, the nature of shifting burdens during the purchase process for distressed properties, and more.
Another, and perhaps more important, function of this project and attorneys assisting homebuyers is educating them about their mortgage products. The foreclosure crisis has spawned a renaissance in financial literacy initiatives for the residents of Maryland. This education is critical if we are to avoid future foreclosure crises. Attorney support in these matters can be critical to the financial health of homebuyers.
The opportunities for home purchasers in the current market are very great, but sadly, so are the pitfalls. This project provides a strong education and support network to homebuyers. GLS is very excited to lead the way in this important project to help purchasers and to change the culture of home-buying in Maryland.
The Maryland Mortgage Fraud Prevention Project (MMFPP) has kicked off! The program, managed by Civil Justice, Inc., is a statewide program to encourage first time homebuyers and those seeking to refinance their mortgages to have contracts and loan documents reviewed by an attorney prior to entering into these transactions. Eligibility for the program is based on five criteria:
1. The proposed property to purchase or refinance must be the client’s principal residence;
2. Clients must be currently unrepresented in any property matter (including bankruptcy, foreclosure, etc.);
3. Clients can’t be in default on any mortgage;
4. Clients must have received a Good Faith Estimate (GFE) from a lender or mortgage broker; and
5. The maximum loan amount for the property is $425,000.
Gabel Legal Services, L.L.C. is proud to have its staff participating in this program to encourage prospective homeowners to consult with counsel prior to entering into transactions. The hope of all the participants is that this program will initiate a change in the culture of home-buying in Maryland and ultimately reduce or prevent future foreclosure crises.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has proposed new regulations for businesses (including lawyers) who offer mortgage assistance relief services (MARS). These services are defined as services that are represented to assist or attempt to assist consumers with loan modifications, preventing foreclosures, negotiating on behalf of homeowners, and other services related to the activities for which many attorneys have been trained through the Maryland Foreclosure Pro Bono Project.
The rules will apply to attorneys and will, among other things, prevent MARS providers, including attorneys, from collecting any fees until the provider has achieved all of the results: (i) the provider represented, to the consumer that the service would achieve, and (ii) that are consistent with consumers’ reasonable expectations about the service. It would also require the following statements in communications about the service:
"Carefully consider this information before buying this service. Even if you buy our service, your lender may not agree to change your loan"
"(Name of company) is a for-profit business not associated with the government. This offer has not been approved by the government or your lender."
The proposed regulations also impose recordkeeping and compliance requirements including "performing random, blind tape recording and testing of the oral representations made by persons engaged in sales or other customer service functions."
FTC has proposed these rules because of reported abuses and deceitful and predatory behavior on the part of some MARS providers. Despite efforts of State governments, consumer advocates, and State bar associations to provide consumers with information to help them avoid MARS scams (See Foreclosure Resource Links on the Resources page on our Website), consumers continue to be injured by businesses that offer MARS and then do nothing to help the homeowner.
Gabel Legal Services anticipates that these rules, if implemented, will drastically decrease the number of legitimate attorneys providing MARS for a variety of reasons. Chief among these reasons is that the taping requirements may interfere with the attorney-client privilege. Another consideration is the additional costs that would be required of attorneys providing these services. Additionally, the added liability associated with providing these services seems likely to have a further chilling effect on attorneys that would provide MARS. It also seems likely that attorneys would have to work several months under these circumstances without any pay and without any reasonable expectation of payment for their services because of the low number of successful modifications nationally. Because attorney payment is made contingent on success, the odds are against attorneys receiving payment for their efforts.
For a copy of the FTC's proposal which includes instructions for submitting comments, go to NCLC's website http://www.nclc.org/issues/legislative/index.shtml.
abel Legal Services is sad to note that the Maryland Institute for the Continuing Professional Education of Lawyers (MICPEL) is closing. MICPEL has long been a source of information, inspiration, and support to the Maryland Legal Community and it will be missed. MICPEL is another casualty of the difficult economic times that we are all experiencing. Gabel Legal Services owes MICPEL a great deal of thanks for their programs and the instruction they provided. Without MICPEL, this firm would not have been able to launch. John Gabel will complete his work on environmental reporting and look for alternate publishing. It is possible that the work will be published on this website.
With that, we will leave the last word to MICPEL on their final post on their website:
To Our Many Valued Contributors, Customers, Vendors, and Friends:
Thank you for over 34 years of dedicated contributions, patronage, service, and friendship. It has been our sincere pleasure to bring the highest quality of continuing legal education to the Maryland legal community. You were a big part of many successful seminars and publications. We wish all of you good will and success in the future.
For information regarding future seminars and/or the purchase of MICPEL’s existing publications, please contact the Maryland State Bar Association via its website: at http://www.msba.org/ .