HARRISBURG (May 26, 2009) - Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Annette Rizzo will receive the Louis J. Goffman Award from the Pennsylvania Bar Foundation for her work with the nationally-recognized Philadelphia Residential Mortgage Diversion Pilot Program.
Goffman Awards, named for a late Pennsylvania Bar Association president, are given annually to individuals and to groups or organizations for outstanding pro bono work. The 2009 award will be presented on Tuesday, June 2, during the Pennsylvania Bar Association Annual Meeting held in Pittsburgh.
Judge Rizzo presides over the Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Pilot Program, which is touted as the first city-sponsored plan in the U.S. to broker negotiations between mortgage lenders and homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments. The pilot program has garnered national press coverage and has become the model to be emulated both within and beyond Pennsylvania's borders.
"Judge Rizzo was the first to understand that the mortgage foreclosure problem was both urgent and extensive in our county," wrote Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Judge Anne Lazarus, who supported Rizzo's nomination for the Goffman Award. "She understood that all of the players had to be brought to the table and had to 'buy in' to the possible solutions."
As the number of mortgage foreclosures complaints filed in Philadelphia neared record levels in early 2008, the Philadelphia Mortgage Foreclosures Steering Committee, chaired by then President Judge C. Darnell Jones of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and Judge Rizzo, began developing the foreclosure prevention program. Judge Rizzo and her judicial colleagues worked with the Sheriff's Office and the City Solicitor's Office, lawyers representing lenders and borrowers, and housing and community activists to implement the pilot program.
Judge Rizzo also worked with Community Legal Services, Philadelphia Legal Assistance and Philadelphia VIP to mobilize more than 250 lawyers to represent low-income homeowners free of charge.
Under the pilot program, when a residential mortgage foreclosure complaint is filed in the city, court regulations require a conciliation conference before the property is put up for sheriff's sale. The homeowner is directed to schedule an appointment with a housing counselor, whose services are provided by the city free-of-charge. The homeowner and the housing counselor gather necessary financial information to hand over to the lawyer for the lender prior to the conference.
Attending the conciliation conference in Judge Rizzo's courtroom are the homeowner, housing counselor, volunteer lawyer for the homeowner and representative from the lender. At the conclusion of the conference, a court order is handed down stating the resolution that has been reached. Options include forbearance, a stay of sale, settlement of the entire action, loan modification, loan reinstatement and payment plans. In some cases, the parties agree to a "graceful exit" when, despite everyone's best efforts, the homeowner cannot remain in the house. Rather than enduring a sheriff's sale, the lender and homeowner agree to a date to exit the property, and, in many cases, the lender provides funds to help the homeowner find an alternative living situation.
To date, approximately 2,100 homeowners have come through the program and more than 900 homes have been saved from foreclosure.
Judge Rizzo was commissioned to the bench for the First Judicial District in January 1999 and elected to the bench in November 1999. She previously practiced in private, government and corporate settings. Judge Rizzo is a cum laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and received her juris doctorate from Temple University School of Law.
The Pennsylvania Bar Foundation, the charitable affiliate of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, improves the public's understanding of the law and its appreciation of democracy and strives to ensure that citizens, particularly Pennsylvania's most vulnerable, have full access to our legal system. The foundation accomplishes its mission by making grants, seeking financial support from individuals and organizations both within and outside of the legal community, and encouraging bar members to donate their time, talent and expertise in service to the public.