As Take Back the Land spokesman Ryan Acuff explained, a defendant who can’t afford an attorney in a criminal case has the constitutional right to have one provided to protect their rights. However, someone facing the loss of their home due to foreclosure isn’t entitled to an attorney, and may have to face court proceedings alone if they can’t afford one.
“We think many people would be able to stay in their home if only they had an attorney to help them,” Acuff said.
Various protest groups such as Occupy Rochester, Take Back the Land, Band of Rebels and concerned community members are concerned with foreclosure abuse but can’t help victims defend themselves in court.
Agostino V. Coccia and his partner, former assistant district attorney Paul A. Guerrieri, want to help fill the void of attorneys who can help those who have been unfairly foreclosed on to keep their homes. As Coccia pointed out, robosigning and fraudulent foreclosure practices still exist despite New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s efforts to ensure such proceedings are fair.
One of the first cases they’ve examined is that of Rochester resident Leonard Spears, who tried just about everything he could to keep his home but couldn’t stop his foreclosure case from moving forward.
Spears repeatedly attempted to get a loan modification and kept in touch with his lender, but to no avail. He didn’t know a foreclosure action had been filed against him because he said he was never served, and the service of process affirmation didn’t come close to matching his physical description. In addition, Coccia said the bank that foreclosed on Spears didn’t have the note and wasn’t entitled to foreclose.
It’s the kind of case he and Guerrieri want to take to help bring attention to a foreclosure process that remains flawed, even after the departure of the Steven J. Baum firm and the implementation of attorney affirmation requirements.
“People are going to say, ‘Well, I pay my mortgage and this guy didn’t,’ but the facts are he intended to pay, he was willing to pay and applied for numerous loan modifications,” Coccia said.
Coccia grew up in Rochester before attending law school and practicing in Oklahoma, where he has been active in consumer advocacy law since 2003. He’s back in his hometown now, hoping he can help consumers and make a living at the same time.
“I’ve always had an interest in consumer advocacy and I’ve always wanted to do foreclosure defense work,” Coccia said. “New York has very little protection for consumers and most consumers aren’t aware of what protections they do have. The number of violations by creditors here is rampant. I think there are more private attorneys starting to get involved in consumer rights now.”
As he builds up his new firm, Coccia is hoping to take advantage of the skills of the attorneys practicing around him in the renovated Wilder Building.
He’s not the first attorney hoping to make a living while doing good. Former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann has been fighting foreclosure abuse for several years and will be a consultant and co-counsel as the need arises.
“We’re only at the first wave of foreclosure filings,” Coccia said. “High foreclosure rates are going to continue for some time. People have rights and have to take an active role to protect those rights.”
Coccia said he doesn’t pretend to be able to help everyone facing foreclosure, but expects there are enough fraudulent foreclosure cases to keep him busy. Acuff and Coccia acknowledged the foreclosure prevention assistance Empire Justice Center provides, despite limited funding — but they can’t represent everyone who has been the victim of fraudulent foreclosure cases.
Coccia said unlike other areas of law, there is a lot of camaraderie in the field of consumer advocacy and attorneys are generally willing to help each other out.