Category Archives: Legal Aid

Impending Tax Bomb of Student Loans

I posted about this last year, but I think it bears repeating.  Back in 2015, law professor Gregory Crespi coined the term “tax bomb” in reference to student loans.  A “tax bomb” is oftentimes unexpected and seen when a taxpayer has surprise income that will be taxed.  It can blow up a taxpayer’s taxes and result in money owed to the IRS.  This concept of a “tax bomb” is also seen in retirement planning.

In the context of student loans, a “tax bomb” can be when a taxpayer has student loan debt that gets forgiven either through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) or Income Based Repayment (IBR).  But, it becomes a bomb when the cancellation of student debt is viewed as income under 26 U.S.C. sec. 108(f) which results in a tax and requires payment to the federal government.  However, in Professor John Brooks’ Tax Notes article, he confirmed that current interpretation allows an exception for PSLF, but not IBR.  This means that if you have student loans forgiven under the PSLF program, then you will presumably not have to pay taxes.  But, if you have student loans forgiven under IBR, then you may be stuck with a tax bill.  The Treasury Department issued guidance on the issue in Rev. Proc. 2015-57.  Brooks’ article does a great job explaining the nuances.  Check it out here.

On a happier note, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Student Loan Tax Relief Act which would exclude income created from the cancellation of student debt or student loan forgiveness.  The bill is available here.

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Massachusetts HomeCorps Program

I recently rediscovered this article in the National Consumer Law Center’s Consumer Impact Newsletter about the early stages of HomeCorps.  The article is from the Spring 2013 newsletter, and on page 8, describes the Massachusetts HomeCorps Program as a “small battalion [of legal services attorneys that] has been deployed to stop foreclosures in their tracks.”

Starting in 2012, I was one of the 18 attorneys hired to advocate for homeowners, tenants, and consumers facing foreclosure-related issues.  We are housed in legal aid agencies across the state of Massachusetts with cases from various counties.  We advocate on behalf of our clients on a vast range issues like housing, consumer rights, debt collection, mortgage issues, tax lien cases, property lien cases, and loan modification issues.

HomeCorps and legal services was one of the most fantastic, humbling, fulfilling, exciting, and challenging jobs that I have ever had.  I truly loved working with my colleagues and clients.  After three years with HomeCorps and legal aid, I have started the next chapter of my life and moved to Washington DC to pursue an LL.M. at the Georgetown University Law Center.

As the Massachusetts HomeCorps Program continues to grow with the National Consumer Law Center, the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, it will be interesting to see how it evolves and adapts to fit the needs of communities!

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In memory of a community lawyer, leader, and brilliant mind

It is with a heavy heart that I write this blog post.  Yesterday, Dave Grossman passed away after a hard fought battle with cancer.

He was an inspiring attorney who touched so many lives with his community lawyering, Harvard law teachings, and brilliant mind.  When I was in Boston Housing Court or at Bank Tenants Association meetings, he would always let me ask him questions and run legal arguments by him.  He would always give me such insightful answers.

He brought so many people together and helped so many lives through his work with City Life Vida Urbana, the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, and more.

Funeral services will be at Temple Emanuel, 385 Ward St., Newton on Tuesday, July 14, 2015 at 11:30 AM.  The obituary is available here.

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Worcester Community Dialogues on Race

Earlier tonight, I tweeted about the Worcester Community Dialogues Listening Sessions on Race.  You can see my tweets @legalbiscuit.

With the spike of racial tensions across the country, as witnessed by the violent-race-related deaths, the City of Worcester decided to take pre-emptive action and start an ongoing dialogue between community members and leaders.  The hope is that this open dialogue will prevent future race violence in this geographic area.

The seven part series started on Monday, May 18th.  These listening sessions take place every Monday night from 5:30pm to 8:00pm.  They are facilitated by the US Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.

I went to my first listening session tonight.  The theme was “Media and Online Social Networks.”

When you arrive at the listening session or community dialogue, you are assigned a number.  Brief introductions are made in the main foyer area.  Then, participants are divided equally among different listening sessions or break out groups.  You converse with your group for about an hour and a half.  The group facilitator leads the group discussion through a series of race-related questions.  The questions vary week to week and focus on the theme for that session.  Then, the notetaker in the session synthesizes and summarizes the discussion into a 2-3 minute presentation.  At the end of the listening session, all participants converge into the main foyer again.  Each break out group has one person present their group’s discussions to the main audience.  Closing remarks are then made.

Also, importantly, they feed you dinner at the event.

The remaining listening sessions, locations, and themes are listed below:

June 29th, 2015       Economic Development (at Worcester Technical High School, 1 Skyline Drive)
                                     
July 13th, 2015        Report back and next steps (at DCU, enter showcase corner at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. and Major Taylor Boulevards)

If you have additional questions about free parking for the event or shuttles, the most recent press release is available here.  Also, the United Way posted a frequently asked questions PDF available here.  Worcester Magazine published an article about the initial event available here.
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The Justice Gap and Community Lawyering

The New York Times published an opinion piece on the Justice Gap today written by a non-profit leader, Theresa Amato.  The full article is available here.

I took our new, summer intern to court today and she was surprised by the number of pro se litigants in civil cases.  I told her it was not uncommon because a lot of people can not afford an attorney.  Hours later, I read this article and these particular lines stood out to me:

Throughout the country, millions of low-income people have no access to free or affordable lawyers, even for life-altering civil matters like child-custody disputes or home foreclosures, where legal representation really matters.  This “justice gap” is vast.

That being said:

To create the entire sector of sustainable, affordable legal service providers that the legal profession needs will take much more entrepreneurship. There’s no shortage of lawyers to bridge the justice gap. For the last four years, less than 60 percent of law-school graduates have found full-time jobs requiring a bar qualification… Without help, the drag of this [law school] debt makes it near-impossible for willing graduates to take lower-paying legal services jobs….We must help law students graduate without a ball and chain of debt. And we need to create jobs that let new graduates practice law either pro bono or “low bono” (cut-price) for clients who can’t afford most attorneys’ rates.

Lastly, the other section that stood out to me was when the author of the article talked about being seen as a lawyer.  She described the set up of her office.

[T]his was community lawyering on a lean budget. Our first office was below ground, with an old pink carpet. We cleaned up secondhand chairs from my high school and used my parents’ old kitchen table. My father painted, my stepdad provided accounting help and my mom answered the phones.

She also begged me to hang my diplomas on the wall. She worried that no one would believe I was a lawyer.

Too often, legal aid lawyers are mistaken as non-lawyers.  Either through popular television, media, or long-standing preconceived notions of the legal profession, when people think of lawyers they imagine a corporate lawyer in a glass office and finely-tailored suit.  Community lawyers do not fit this stereotype, but they are just as fierce and knowledgeable as corporate attorneys.  We, community lawyers, probably have better social work skills (I jest… sort of).

In short, as the author mentioned in her piece, contrary to regular market practices, the legal profession has a high need for lawyers, but not enough financial viability to sustain pro bono/low-income/public interest work.  Invest in legal aid!

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Invest in Legal Aid

My five seconds of fame is in this video about legal aid in Massachusetts.

The clip was created by the talented Gary Yordan, who is CEO of the Zachary Group, and Pat Swansey, who is the graceful, eloquent, and miracle-worker Program Director at Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation.  It was truly a pleasure working with these two amazing individuals!

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Toiletry Drive at Elder Services of Worcester Area

This post is not law related.  But, as someone who works with elders, I want to tell you about Elder Services of Worcester Area‘s Toiletry Drive.  Now is a great time to clean out your closets and bathrooms.  If you have any bath products like:

  • soap
  • unused sponges
  • shower gel
  • denture cleaning products
  • toothbrushes
  • toothpaste
  • mouthwash
  • combs
  • brushes
  • shampoos
  • conditioners
  • nail clippers
  • deodorants
  • hand sanitizers
  • powder
  • razors
  • shaving cream
  • lotions

Please donate your unused products because it will benefit neglected and abused elders in Worcester.  The drive takes place from May 15, 2015 to June 19, 2015 and you can see the official flyer here.  You can drop off items at 67 Millbrook Street, Suite 100 or 117, Worcester, MA during Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM.

Thank you!

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Excellence in the Law Awards

Earlier this evening, I had the pleasure of attending the 2015 Excellence in the Law Awards hosted by the Mass Lawyers Weekly and the Massachusetts Bar Association.  This wonderful event was held at the Marriott Long Wharf Hotel in Boston.  The room was packed!

In addition, my colleague, Jane Edmonstone, received an “Up & Coming Lawyers” Award given to impressive attorneys who have practiced less than ten years.

Below is a picture of Amy Romero, Faye Rachlin (Deputy Director), Jane Edmonstone, and me representing the Community Legal Aid contingent at the dinner.

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Legal Aid Legislative Briefings at the Massachusetts State House

Earlier this week on Monday, February 10th, I spent the morning at the Massachusetts State House for the 13th Annual Civil Legal Aid Constituent Services Briefing.  Legal aid advocates from across the state spoke to leaders, aides, and state house staffers about issues that impact people.  Specifically, the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation brought in attorneys to focus on unemployment, the impact of the American Care Act on health care, housing, foreclosures, homelessness, domestic violence, and government benefits.  I have included a few pictures from the morning below.

Weyonnoh Nelson-Davies, Mehda Makhlouf, and I answering questions at the Community Legal Aid table at the State House.

Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies, Mehda Makhlouf, and I answering questions at the Community Legal Aid table at the State House.

Mehda Makhlouf talking about Medicare, Medicaid, MassHealth, Commonwealth Connector, and other health care items.

Mehda Makhlouf talking about Medicare, Medicaid, MassHealth, Commonwealth Connector, and other health care items.

Marc Potvin, from Neighborhood Legal Services, informing others about foreclosure law.

Marc Potvin, from Neighborhood Legal Services, informing others about foreclosure law.

Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies speaking about government benefits.

Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies speaking about government benefits.

In addition to meeting legislative staffers from offices based out of Worcester and Hampden County, I met Christine Lee who is a reporter for Channel 22 News.  I would just like to note that she was a lawyer before she became a journalist.  Follow her on Twitter at @christinenews .

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Case Blurb: U.S. Bank v. Edna and John Schumacher

U.S. Bank National Association v. Edna and John Schumacher is scheduled for oral arguments in front of the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) on Thursday, November 7th.  If you want to watch the live streaming of the oral arguments, Suffolk Law has a webcast available here.  Suffolk Law also archives webcasts in case you are not available at the exact time the video is real-time broadcasted.

U.S. Bank v. Schumacher is a post-foreclosure case that was originally argued in the Worcester Housing Court before it was transferred sua sponte from the Appeals Court to the SJC.  In the Worcester Housing Court, Judge Sullivan ruled in favor of U.S. Bank.  Mr. Schumacher was originally represented by the Alliance for Affordable Housing.  When Mr. Schumacher appealed, he obtained legal representation with Harvard Law School’s Legal Services Center.  U.S. Bank was originally represented by Harmon Law Offices.  U.S. Bank is currently represented by Nelson Mullins in the SJC matter.

In this case, Mr. Schumacher argues that the foreclosure is void because the Bank failed to fully comply with M.G.L. c. 244, sec. 35A.  Pushing for strict compliance of the statute, the Appellant emphasizes that the right to cure letter that was mailed to him did not state the name of the mortgage holder of record.  In contrast, U.S. Bank argues that substantial compliance is enough.  Through out Massachusetts, the courts are split on the interpretation of this particular law.

In addition to the appellant and appellee briefs that were filed, several amicus briefs were submitted in support of both sides.  For the Plaintiff/Appellee U.S. Bank, the Real Estate Bar Association for Massachusetts (REBA) and the Abstract Club wrote a combined brief.  For the Defendant/Appellant Mr. Schumacher, Community Legal Aid, the National Consumer Law Center, and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office submitted three separate briefs.  The docket and electronic versions of the amicus briefs are available here.

In addition, Brandon Gee at Mass Lawyers Weekly recently published an article titled, “SJC to Consider Foreclosure Sale Notice Mistakes,” regarding the U.S. Bank v. Schumacher case.  The publication is available here, but you will need a subscription to access the full article.  Gee wrote in the piece:

[I]n an amicus brief submitted in support of the defendant-appellant, Community Legal Aid Inc. says the mistakes being made are more than mere technicalities and that strict compliance must be required.

Community Legal Aid attorneys Allen Acosta, Sora J. Kim and Uri Y. Strauss argue in the brief that one of the purposes of the notices was to allow the Division of Banks to develop a database to track foreclosure activities by particular lenders, brokers and servicers. Even if a mistake identifying the players has no practical impact on individual foreclosures, it undermines the monitoring effort, the organization contends.

Community Legal Aid says mistakes are widespread and varied and have included notices that list incorrect telephone numbers, that have been sent to the wrong people, that have identified the wrong mortgage, and that have included the incorrect amount of money required to cure a default.

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