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In an effort to help address a growing number of foreclosures in Ohio, the state’s chief justice has called on lawyers to offer pro bono services and assist courts, homeowners and lenders. Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer of the Supreme Court of Ohio issued a statement and addressed members of the legal community on Thursday about the issue. “This is more than a legal issue; this is a social issue,” Moyer said, according to a news release. “People’s lives are being seriously affected and the legal community must respond with action.” The group that met Thursday included members of the Ohio attorney general’s office, the Ohio State Bar Association and the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation. Members created several working groups, which are expected to report action plans early next year, including a program for connecting borrowers, lenders and pro bono attorneys. The court will work on training lawyers with limited or no foreclosure experience. The Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio has estimated its attorneys have already helped save as many as 400 homes this year. In a pilot project, the Supreme Court of Ohio has been working with common pleas courts in three counties offering mediation services between lenders and homeowners to avoid foreclosures. Statewide, foreclosure filings are expected to increase by more than 40% in 2007 compared to four years ago, with 85 of 88 counties projecting increases, according to court data. Foreclosures have not been unique to Ohio. Nationwide, there were nearly 202,000 foreclosure filings — �which include default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions — �in November, according to the Irvine, Calf.-based RealtyTrac, a leading online marketplace for foreclosure properties. That figure is down 10% from the previous month, but up nearly 68% from a year ago. Ohio, Florida and Nevada had the highest foreclosure rates, according to the report.

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