In a stately 19th century mansion in the middle of this former textile mill town, a local political scion has formed a mortgage foreclosure resistance movement.
O. Max Gardner III, 65, pioneered techniques in preventing big banks from foreclosing on loans and has taught his methods to 559 other lawyers in the last four years.
He teaches a sort of legal jiu jitsu: how to exploit opponents’ large size and disorganization for the benefit of consumers who do not want to give up their homes.
Once lawyers exit his training program, they stay on his expanding e-mail list, and are allowed access to an online document repository to share information. They work together to come up with new ways to slow down foreclosures and share strategies on other bankruptcy issues, communicating at a rate of 350 messages a day.
In the fragmented world of consumer bankruptcy law, where lawyers that represent consumers often work at small firms, Gardner, from his one-person law firm, is creating a sort of virtual law firm with hundreds of partners.
“My clients are desperate. They have insurmountable financial problems, and I’m able to give them a remedy and an answer and an assurance it’s going to be all right. That’s pretty rewarding stuff,” said Gardner, sitting at the desk in the tiny first floor office in his 9,000 square foot home.
To his admirers, Gardner is a sort of a folk hero.
“He’s Atticus Finch,” said April Charney, an attorney with Jacksonville Legal Aid in Florida, referring to the lawyer in the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” who is seen as a model for lawyers protecting the disadvantaged.
Counsel opposing Gardner often view him as an agitator who gums up the bankruptcy process, said Joseph Greer III, a corporate bankruptcy lawyer in North Carolina who often works with creditors.