Having to go to court can be a frightening experience, and for some, not being able to afford a lawyer can make the process that much worse.
In Connecticut, there is a free attorney program offered by the state and not a lot of people know about it.
Doris Primus was in need of legal help. She says her now ex-husband failed to pay their mortgage and now she owes more than her Prospect home is worth. With her credit ruined, her options seemed scarce.
“I’ve put in applications just to see how hard it would be to get into an apartment, and I’ve been turned down. All of a sudden, you’re older, you’re left with nothing, and where do you go?” Primus said.
She looked to attorneys, but they cost too much.
“As the process goes on, so does the payment they want."
And that’s where the state’s Judicial Branch Volunteer Attorney Program (VAP) came to the rescue.
“This free service is great. You sign up, you wait your turn, you go into the room, I wasn’t rushed out. I was able to explain my situation, and they gave me advice, which didn’t cost me a fortune. It didn’t cost me anything,” Primus said.
Judge Mark Taylor estimates that less than half of defendants in his Waterbury foreclosure courtroom are represented by attorneys. Judge Taylor believes that is a problem, because the bank always has lawyers fighting on their side.
“When you have one party that’s disadvantaged by not having an attorney, then it becomes more difficult to get to the right issues, address them in the right way, and come to a clear conclusion,” Judge Taylor said.
The program is staffed by experienced lawyers.
“They know what they’re doing, they know when they see an issue, and they’ll be able to help people identify it,” said Matthew Woermer, a lawyer with 23 years experience.
Still, many people seem to be skeptical, especially in Waterbury. As of February, only 50 people took advantage of this service in the Waterbury court, compared with almost a thousand each in Bridgeport and New Haven.
“You know, I’m thinking, ‘Oh this is a good way for them to get clients,’ not that they need them, but you always think there’s a catch,” explained Primus.
The program also has volunteers to help people with family law issues, in addition to foreclosures.
Self-represented parties who would like information about the Volunteer Attorney Program can click here for information.
People with a foreclosure case pending in court will have a notice about the VAP program mailed to their home.