Then and now
Rebecca Coleman founded the 2010 Creditor Abuse Protection Project to protect low-income city residents who were victims of creditor abuse and consumer debt. Coleman provided training, legal assistance and co-counseling services to attorneys who represented victims of creditor abuse cases. The goal was to increase the number of attorneys representing debtors and help consumers become more aware of their rights. Since becoming an alumni fellow, Coleman has partnered with the Pro Bono Resource Center to turn the initiative into the broader “Consumer Protection Project,” which works in the Baltimore City District Court on behalf of people facing legal action by third-party debt collectors. The project has trained and supported pro bono lawyers to defend clients against illegal debt collection and has coordinated courthouse legal clinics to help individuals who choose to represent themselves. Coleman says the project has trained more than 100 attorneys and provided 50 clients with pro bono legal assistance.
Challenge of sustainability
“There are major challenges. The biggest one is that the debt buyer industry is giving us major pushback,” Coleman says.
Debt buyers have employed tactics such as making last-minute changes to the times of their court appearances to try to avoid Coleman and her fellow volunteers, and even threatening to file complaints against judges who have ruled against them.
“They do not want to lose the ability to collect on these debts,” she says.
OSI-Baltimore has helped
“I wouldn’t have been able to do the project at all without the fellowship,” Coleman says. “It’s also opened a lot of doors. Just being connected to OSI has made it easier to partner with other organizations and it has helped leverage other funds.”
Coleman also has benefitted from the guidance that comes from having an ever-growing group of fellows to mine.
“At times when things aren’t going well, it’s nice to know that other people had those moments, too, and that you can still be successful,” Coleman says.
Coleman will use the latest OSI-Baltimore grant for strategic planning to help expand the program to cover cases in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland, create a database of outcomes and improve fund development.
People should pay their debt,” Coleman says. “We free up the money they’re paying to third-parties so that people can pay their legitimate creditors. This grant will help us do that even better.”
Coleman wants to expand the Consumer Protection Project to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland. She has found that people seeking assistance with debt collection cases typically receive legal advice on either filing for bankruptcy or defending against a debt collection law suit. “There are few attorneys who are knowledgeable about both consumer debt collection defense and bankruptcy,” she says. “But many debtors need to know their options about both.”