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The Western New York Law Center has launched a new program to provide legal help with consumer debt, offering consumers assistance with garnishments, credit default judgments and other issues.

The Law Center is offering the service because of what it called a "troubling trend" in consumer debt cases in court. In 2010, for instance, 15,201, or 90 percent of the 16,908 lawsuits in Buffalo City Court, were consumer credit matters, and 8,289 of those, or 55 percent, resulted in default judgments in favor of the creditors.

Statewide that year, outside of New York City, more than 90 percent of all civil lawsuit default judgments were consumer credit defaults, and most of the cases were filed by debt buyers who purchase old debt for pennies on the dollar and then aggressively try to collect.

The service is staffed by volunteer lawyers, supervised law students from University at Buffalo Law School and an expert consumer law attorney, who will help people avoid "unfair default judgments" and represent themselves in City Court. Training for the volunteer lawyers will start Dec. 13, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., in the 10th-floor conference room of the Main Seneca Building, 237 Main St.

The Law Center operates at City Court and at the Hope Center of the Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers in the Tri-Main Building, 2495 Main St. It's funded by the John R. Oishei Foundation and the Law Center, and also has support from the 8th Judicial District, the BFNC Hope Center and UB Law School.

The program holds free walk-in clinics Tuesdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Hope Center and Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon at City Court, Part 15, seventh floor, 50 Delaware Ave. Law students serve as administrators, screening and registering visitors, but issues of complex litigation may be referred to the Law Center.

email: jepstein@buffnews.com