On Ezekiel and Chocolate Pie

Last month at our Annual Luncheon, LAF presented the Jerold S. Solovy Equal Justice Award to Daniel Lindsey, a Supervisory Attorney in our Consumer Practice Group.  This award is given annually to one attorney on LAF’s staff whose work embodies the work of Jerold Solovy, a proud Chicagoan who worked to change the legal system to improve the lives of people living in poverty.  We are so grateful for Dan and all the work he does, both for everyone at LAF and our clients.

Read his speech from the Luncheon below, and you’ll get a sense of how much he cares about his work at LAF and in our community:

I want to talk about the prophet Ezekiel, and chocolate pie.

First, the prophet Ezekiel.

When I began leading our foreclosure prevention work back in 2001, we spent a lot of time fighting predatory subprime mortgage lenders.  In 2002, I attended a conference where an attorney named Joanne Faulkner was honored for her work in this area.  In her remarks, Joanne quoted the prophet Ezekiel, who declared to certain of the rich and powerful of his day: “[Y]ou take bribes to shed blood; you take advance interest and accrued interest, you extort unjust gain from your neighbors; you have forgotten me, declares the Lord.” 

I had a sort of epiphany that day.  I realized that being a consumer lawyer can be a spiritual calling, and I realized that it was my spiritual calling.

I have been able to pursue that calling at LAF, and I don’t take that for granted.  Many legal aid programs around the country do little, if any, consumer law.  Whereas, for decades, LAF has defended borrowers from unfair and abusive debt collection practices, under the leadership of Alan Alop.  For decades, LAF has pursued cutting-edge forms of bankruptcy relief to give consumers a fresh start, under the leadership of David Yen.

Add to that our vital partnership with the Illinois Attorney General.  In 2005, I stood with a client beside Attorney General Madigan when she introduced the Mortgage Rescue Fraud Act, a law which helped end the scourge of deed theft.   Ten years later, we are completing work under a three-year AG grant which has enabled us to serve thousands of additional homeowners during the height of the foreclosure crisis.

Yes, LAF is a great place to be a consumer lawyer.

Now for the chocolate pie.  (Metaphorically speaking – it’s above my pay grade to order the dessert course.)

In the end, it’s all about the clients.   They are the ones who inspire us to get up in the morning and come to work.  They are one the ones who face long odds, and powerful institutions, each and every day.  They are the ones whose fights we are excited to join. 

Julia Walls is one such client.   In 2010, Ms. Walls’ husband Andrew passed away, and she began struggling to pay her mortgage.  She tried in vain to get a loan modification, first on her own, then with a housing counselor.

Ms. Walls finally came to LAF.  I knew Ms. Walls should be able to assume and modify her husband’s loan, but for a long time we, too, hit a brick wall.   We submitted a new application.  I contacted a high-level executive at the bank.  I sent a Notice of Error under the federal RESPA statute.  I reached out to our friends at the AG’s Office.  Finally, after almost a year, we got the mod.  Ms. Walls’ payments were cut in half, and she remains secure in her home of 30 years.

The lender told us it had taken so long because it had never done a loan mod quite like this: an assumption and modification of a HELOC—a Home Equity Line of Credit—rather than a conventional mortgage.  This means that Ms. Walls has cleared the way to help many other homeowners, because her lender is one of the largest banks in the world.  So much for the false dichotomy between “individual” work and “impact” work.

Ms. Walls wanted to buy me a thank-you gift.   I told her we can only accept gifts at LAF if they are edible.  And so one day she came to our office and dropped off a pair of delicious chocolate pies.  As per LAF custom, I placed them in our lunch room and sent out an e-mail—and they disappeared in about 30 seconds.

Because at LAF we work as a team, and we eat as a team.  Thank you.

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