Ohio's been written about as one of the hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis - from the Wall Street Journal to USA Today and the New York Times. The housing crisis affecting Ohio families is not about numbers, it's about families who have caught the brunt of corporate greed.
Tragically, some outmoded aspects of our current legal system have hampered efforts to alleviate the suffering caused by this crisis. For example, the rules of procedure of the Ohio Supreme Court prevented people from working out a new payment plan with their lenders, often resulting in families ending up on the streets. Fortunately, under the leadership of Ohio Supreme Court Justice Eric Brown, there is an effort underway to help Ohioans in foreclosure by changing this deplorable situation.
Chief Justice Eric Brown was appointed by Gov. Ted Strickland early last April, breaking a Republican monopoly on the seven-member high court that dated back to January 2007. He is now the first Democrat to run as an incumbent on the Ohio Supreme Court since 2000.
The new Chief Justice recently spearheaded changes leading to a pilot project designed to encourage courts to give homeowners already in foreclosure mediation more time to work out a suitable payment plan with lenders. The pilot project is currently being in tested in Cuyahoga County but if proven successful the Chief Justice has pledged to make it available to all of Ohio's 88 Counties.
The plan calls for courts to encourage mediation between lenders and homeowners by relaxing the case timelines that courts can give pending foreclosure cases. The relaxation of the time guidelines is designed to provide the time the parties may need to develop a new payment plan, and to test the new terms to see if they are feasible. This administrative initiation by the high court is essential in these dire economic times and is also a great example of innovative action that can be reached when members of the judiciary work collaboratively to solve problems facing citizens.
In the face of over 14,000 foreclosure actions brought in Cuyahoga County in just one year, the Chief Justice responded by working with Cleveland area courts to create a program that provides parties involved in foreclosure disputes some much needed flexibility in reaching a resolution. The pilot project provides the flexibility and the time that is needed for the new federal foreclosure assistance program to be effective. The Ohio Hardest Hit Fund requires that a new payment plan be in place for a few months to test whether the homeowner can afford to stay in the home.
The program has been hailed by lenders, homeowners and non-profit entities dealing with Cleveland's foreclosure crisis. They say it could mean the difference between somebody being a homeowner or being homeless. It also helps the lenders by helping to ensure their mortgages are profit producing instead of uncollectable.
The pilot program also provides a great example of creative problem solving under the high Court's new leadership. Chief Justice Eric Brown credits his diverse administrative background (as a former Ohio Assistant Attorney General, probate court judge, school board member, bar association officer and trustee, and other leadership postitions) and willingness to reach out to courts on the local level to identify and solve problems collaboratively. He says his approach to the bench has led him to travel across the state and speak to courts like he did in Cuyahoga county. He believes that part of the role of Chief Justice is to be outwardly focused on more common sense court administration practices that will benefit all Ohioans.