Volunteers Serving Their Community
“I feel like a new person,” said Leitha Curry when we spoke with her recently about her experience as a client of the Legal Aid Society.
When Burton Spraker met Mrs. Leitha Curry at Orangewood Presbyterian Church, she was already in serious trouble. Having needed money to pay the property taxes on her modest home, Mrs. Curry borrowed the money from an unscrupulous lender. Without realizing it, she had signed documents agreeing to loan interest of 92% and had signed a quit-claim deed as “security” for the loan. Mr. Spraker, himself an attorney retired from Broad and Cassel, quickly realized that Mrs. Curry had a problem, and with her very limited income, Mrs. Curry’s only option was the Legal Aid Society. He brought her personally to the Legal Aid office, where Mrs. Curry filed an application with the assistance of Martha Lawrence, an intake volunteer. Her case was referred to pro bono attorney by Jim Grodin, a partner with Foley & Lardner, LLP.
Mr. Grodin immediately grasped the essential elements of the problem and commenced litigation. His case was founded on two premises: A) if the loan was usurious, then as a matter of law it did not exist and B) if there was no loan the deed/mortgage was a nullity as well. He filed suit on Mrs. Curry’s behalf and prevailed on a summary judgment motion, which nullified the debt and cancelled the deed. She received clear title to her home, and was absolved of the entire debt. It was wonderful news, but unfortunately, her troubles were not over.
While the unscrupulous lender ostensibly had title to the property, he failed to pay the property taxes over a multiple year period. When the holder of the oldest tax certificate filed a request for the issuance of a tax deed, under Florida law Mrs. Curry was required to pay not just the oldest tax certificate, but all outstanding certificates in order to maintain ownership of her property. Since her lack of means was the source of the original problem, once again she was threatened with the prospect of losing her home. But again, Foley & Lardner came to the rescue. To augment the funds that Mrs. Curry had been able to save, Mr. Grodin put together an “aid package” that included gifts from Foley & Lardner and a local synagogue. This was enough to pay the property taxes and save the property for Mrs. Curry.
When asked why he went the extra mile in this case, Mr. Grodin responded that pro bono is a part of Foley & Lardner’s firm culture. Our firm considers pro bono service to be both an individual and firm responsibility. This year, we project our firm nationally will devote approximately 40,000 hours to pro bono legal projects. Mr. Grodin finished with a pearl of wisdom given to him by an early mentor who told him, “Your job is to make every client feel like he/she is the only client in your office.” To me, Jim said, “Mrs. Curry is no different than any other Foley & Lardner client. She deserves the exact same level of service we like to think every one of our clients receives”.
Now, Mrs. Curry is safe and secure in her own home for the holiday season. But the good news does not end there. Orangewood Presbyterian Church has indicated a desire to renovate her home for her. Burton Spraker was so favorably impressed with the professionalism and compassion displayed by Martha Lawrence during that initial intake interview, that he is now a Legal Aid volunteer. When good people go the extra mile, it makes a real difference.
Congratulations Mrs. Curry!
Thank you Jim, Burton and Martha.