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Maria A. Smith, Esq. - Supervising Attorney, Legal Aid

Linda Woofter was excited by the possibility of owning the home that she had rented for the past 14 years. Her dreams were now within reach as she entered into a land installment contract with David Jones.* For the next year, Ms. Woofter laid down her hard-earned money to fulfill the agreement. But when the title transfer was within reach, it became apparent that Mr. Jones had no intention of fulfilling the agreement contract with Ms. Woofter. In fact, Mr. Jones was facing a tax foreclosure on the property and instead of presenting Ms. Woofter with the property title, he served her with an eviction notice. That’s when Ms. Woofter sought the assistance of Maria Smith, a supervising attorney in Legal Aid’s Housing Practice Group.

The legal wrangling that ensued stretched nearly seven years. “Ms. Woofter just wanted to stay in her home.” In June 2005, Ms. Smith filed an answer and cross-claim in the foreclosure action stating that Mr. Jones had committed fraud. Although Ms. Woofter repeatedly took time off from her job as a press operator to attend the court proceedings, Mr. Jones did not appear in court and was ordered to pay Ms. Woofter $10,500.

“In 2010, I received a notice that Mr. Jones had filed for bankruptcy. I immediately contacted Ms. Woofter, so we could then ensure that Mr. Jones would pay on the settlement,” says Ms. Smith. Lauren Gilbride, a supervising attorney in Legal Aid’s Intake Unit and Volunteer Lawyers Program, helped Ms. Smith find a pro bono bankruptcy attorney for Ms. Woofter. Volunteer attorney Stephen Hobt graciously accepted the case.

Mr. Hobt, who normally accepts five to six pro bono cases a year from Legal Aid, took on this case, which was not without personal risk. Current bankruptcy law presents the possibility that if the claim is unjustified, fees can be awarded against the attorney. “Because of the help received from Legal Aid, I was able to have the debt owed to Ms. Woofter declared non-dischargeable,” says Stephen Hobt. “Ms. Smith had pushed very hard for Ms. Woofter to obtain a judgment of fraud in 2007. Without her footwork, there would have been no case in 2011.”

Although Ms. Woofter had to leave the house that she once sought to purchase because of the foreclosure, she feels satisfied that Mr. Jones was held accountable for his financial responsibility to her. She is also extremely grateful for the expertise of Legal Aid attorneys and volunteers. “Legal Aid wanted the best for me,” says Ms. Woofter. “If I had the money to spend on expensive lawyers, I could not have gotten ones as good as Ms. Smith and Mr. Hobt.”

* Opposing party’s name changed to protect privacy.

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