Governor promotes state's Pro Bono program to help homeowners facing foreclosure
Today, Governor Martin O'Malley joined Chief Judge Robert Bell, officials from the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland, and homeowners who have benefited from the free counseling services to declare Pro Bono Week in Maryland, in coordination with National Pro Bono Week, which promotes free services donated by lawyers nationwide. The American Bar Association declared the last week of October 2009 as National Pro Bono Week to highlight the need for more attorney volunteers to meet the need for pro bono legal services.
"We have a very proud Revolutionary tradition in our State of citizens stepping forward to serve in times of adversity," said Governor O'Malley. "The 7,000 attorneys in Maryland who participate in pro-bono activities each year continue this proud tradition -- and we need their efforts and service even more during these tough times. We hope that by shining a spotlight on the importance and value of this work, we will encourage more of our fellow citizens to step forward and serve during these difficult times."
In Maryland, the Department of Housing and Community Development has partnered with area attorneys to form the Foreclosure Pro Bono Project, designed to offer free legal assistance to homeowners facing foreclosure. To date, more than 900 attorneys have been trained in the program, 643 attorneys have participated providing free legal counseling to 1,794 Marylanders. Over 9,000 foreclosure actions have been filed in Maryland in just the first quarter of 2009. Attorneys who are interested in participating can visit www.probonomd.org or call 800-396-1274.
"The economy continues to take its toll on homeowners across the country. As we celebrate National Pro Bono Week, it is important to recognize the overwhelming response of nearly 1,000 Maryland lawyers to a call for help for their fellow persons. They committed to be trained in foreclosure law so as to be able to assist families at risk of losing their homes. Despite this overwhelming response from the Maryland Bar, more volunteers are needed to help stem the tide of this foreclosure crisis, one of the most important pro bono challenges of our time."
Close to 80 percent of the poor in Maryland are unable to access legal assistance in critical civil legal matters. Approximately 480 attorneys work for staffed legal services providers throughout the State, which translates to a ratio of approximately one legal services lawyer for every 970 people in poverty.
"It is tremendously gratifying to see so many communities celebrating Pro Bono Week with legal workshops for the public, training programs and recognition of the outstanding lawyers who give thousands of hours of their time to assist those in need," said Sharon Goldsmith, Esq., Executive Director of the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland. "The bar and bench should be commended for all of their efforts to support pro bono legal services and help ensure open and fair access to our justice system."
The Pro Bono Resource Center is a non-profit organization established in 1990 as the pro bono arm of the Maryland State Bar Association. It serves as the statewide clearinghouse and coordinator of pro bono civil legal services. Its mission is to promote equal access to justice by coordinating and supporting volunteer civil legal services, providing resources and support for legal advocates for the poor and promoting cooperation within the legal community. The Pro Bono Resource Center focuses much of its efforts on recruitment, training and support of volunteer lawyers, while working on the development of pro bono policy through its work with the Court of Appeals' Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Service.