Debbie, Sandra, and Roger Phillips

Debbie, her sister, Sandra, and attorney Roger Phillips stand in front of Sandra’s home.

Sandra’s little blue house in the heart of Salem holds many special memories for her.

She currently lives in the house with her son and her sister, and hosts frequent visits from her grandchildren. Inside, photos and heirlooms line the walls and cover shelves, each chronicling a piece of her family’s story.

While Sandra looks forward to spending many more years in her family home, she almost lost it forever. It started in 2007, when her son’s then fiancé contacted her about borrowing some money.

“She wanted me to borrow $40,000 using my house as security to save her house from foreclosure,” Sandra explained. “Because this house had been paid off for a long time, there was a lot of equity. She said she was going to pay it back in three months. I told her to let me think about it.”

Two days later, the woman called Sandra again and asked once more for the money. She was in tears and said she really needed it.

“So, I agreed,” said Sandra. “And she said she’d call me back.”

A month went by, and Sandra had not heard from her. She called and even went to the woman’s home to try and find her, to no avail. A few more months later, Sandra’s brother came to the
house with distressing news.

“He found an article in the newspaper that said my house was up for auction. And I freaked out,” she said.

The woman had taken a $100,000 mortgage on the house through a forged power of attorney.

“My heart just broke in half,” Sandra said. “Here I am trying to help my son’s fiancée, the mother of my grandchildren. I figure she has a good job and she’ll pay it back. But I found out later that she was (struggling with addiction). It was just a terrible situation all around.”

Sandra’s daughter found an attorney to stop the auction. However, Sandra was still responsible for making payments on the $100,000 mortgage. The lawyer who stopped the auction soon retired, leaving Sandra with no one to help her.

“I started looking again, and that is when I found Roger,” she said.

Roger Phillips’ Concord law practice specializes in representing clients in debt collection and credit reporting matters. He also serves as a member of the 603 Legal Aid’s Pro Bono Foreclosure
Relief Project.

“There are many times when poor people are sued by banks or debt collectors for debts they do not owe,” said Roger. “I got involved in this case because a bank and its collectors refused to listen to and believe Sandra, who had clear evidence of fraud.”

Roger spent 1,000 hours on Sandra’s case and with the help of pro bono advances, hired a forensic handwriting expert to prove the power of attorney used to take out the mortgage on Sandra’s home was a forgery. After more than seven years of litigation, the Court awarded attorney fees and
costs of more than $400,000. Sandra was awarded $16,000 in damages for
wrongful debt collection.

Not having to make payments on a fraudulent mortgage allows Sandra to manage her current budget, but most importantly, she is able to hold onto her house and make several years of more family memories there.

“Roger was an absolute angel,” Sandra said. “I don’t know what I would have done without him.”

“When we see something that is unjust, it’s our duty as attorneys to right the wrong and level the playing field by getting the wrongdoer to pay attorney fees and damages,” said Roger. “Pro bono attorneys have the power to do that for people who otherwise can’t afford legal help.”