Stanley Hirtle, a Dayton attorney who fought predatory lenders to help people keep their homes and battled trade schools that defrauded students, retired in January.
Hirtle, 75, senior attorney for Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, said once the COVID-19 pandemic has passed, he will focus on volunteering in the community.
Hirtle worked in Dayton for 30 years at ABLE and it’s predecessor the Legal Aid Society of Dayton. ABLE is a Dayton public interest law firm that provides free legal services to low-income people.
“I was always interested in helping the poor. I was in (Northwestern University) law school when the war on poverty was still happening,” Hirtle said. “My law school opened a clinic for poor people when I was there. The civil rights movement was happening while I was there.”
A native of Cincinnati, Hirtle was drafted into the U.S. Army after law school and later traveled to Africa where he was inspired by the Peace Corps volunteers he met.
“I decided to do some good. Legal aid services was just getting started,” Hirtle said. “There were a lot of us just out of law school that started doing this.”
He worked for Cincinnati’s legal aid services office and then went into private practice before coming to work for legal aid in Dayton in 1990.
“He’s one of the brightest, quickest people I know and at the same time he’s incredibly down to earth,” said Ellis Jacobs, senior attorney at ABLE. “He has a work ethic like you wouldn’t believe and he is compassionate to a fault. He deeply cares about his clients and in getting the best results for them.”
Over the years Hirtle has handled civil rights cases, including getting public transit bus stops for people going to the Fairfield Commons Mall in Beavercreek, battled trade schools that took student’s money but failed to give them an adequate education and helped homeowners who were victims of predatory lenders.
“The first thing we saw was predatory lenders going into low income communities, often African American communities, and suckering people into taking these horrible loans,” Jacobs said. “And Stan was among the first lawyers in the country to represent those people and to make sure they weren’t foreclosed upon by these predatory lenders.”
Hirtle still remembers one of his early clients in a predatory lending case. She was an elderly Black woman who was victimized by a salesman who knocked on her door and sold her repairs paid for with a predatory loan.
“We were able to get some relief from her. We were able to save her house,” Hirtle said.
Hirtle was also there to help students victimized by for-profit trade schools that began proliferating with expanded access to federal student loans for those types of schools. He said he was able to get loans discharged for students and sometimes get their money back.
“He brings such a strong sense of justice that when he saw people being ripped off by lenders or trade schools he thought it was imperative that he wade in and take on these kinds of cases,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs said Hirtle helped develop legal approaches in the predatory lending and trade school cases that other attorneys used successfully.
Hirtle regrets that he couldn’t do more for people, in part because of the limitations of consumer protection laws.
“The system wasn’t set up for anybody to do anything about it. We did help our own clients and that was very good,” Hirtle said. “But (predatory lending) became the scheme that sank the whole economy.”
He witnessed first hand the impact of that on Dayton because he and his wife, Andrea, a retired school librarian and Dayton school teacher, still live in the same northwest Dayton University Row neighborhood where they raised their now adult daughter, Robin.
“It’s still a problem. Twelve years after 2008 there’s still a lot of boarded up houses in Dayton,” Hirtle said. “A lot of it is because it was difficult to protect consumers.”
Looking back over the years, Hirtle sees a lot of progress mixed in with steps backward, particularly inequities between urban and suburban school districts. But Hirtle said he found inspiration in one of the momentous events of 2020, the massive multi-racial outrage over the deaths of Black Americans like George Floyd at the hands of police officers.
“One good thing certainly has been what we might generally call the Black Lives Matter movement and the effect it has had on people examining the legacy of enslavement and Jim Crow old and new,” Hirtle said. “There’s an opportunity for good things to happen.”
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