In the weeks between the end of my suspension and the Ohio Supreme Court’s order of reinstatement, I had the fortunate opportunity to read The Unwinding by George Packer. The lives chronicled in this book and his analysis of the crumbling of American Institutions reminded me of why I feel so passionately about the work I do taking on Banks, Credit Card Companies, Payday Lenders and others who would exploit homeowners, consumers and small business people struggling to achieve the American Dream.
Packer describes the Foreclosure Courtrooms he observed in Tampa Florida in the following way:
“…the lawsuits converged on downtown Tampa where they assembled on the fourth floor of the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit…They (the lawsuits) were transformed into millions of pages of legal documents and the documents were crammed into thick dull brown legal folders, and the folders were stacked in boxes and the boxes were loaded onto carts and the carts were wheeled into courtrooms by bailiffs who looked weary from the effort. There, the black robed Judges… went about the work of clearing Florida’s backlog of half a million foreclosure cases, as earlier generations had cleared the mangrove swamps that made way for Tampa…if (a homeowner happened to appear) the court would have to confront the human face of foreclosure, the particular lineaments of anxiety etched there by the prospect of losing one’s home, and embarrassment would settle over the proceedings, as if a terminal patient had wandered into a room where doctors were coldly discussing her hopeless prognosis, and the judge might be likely to ask a few hard questions for the Plaintiff’s attorney. Fortunately, this almost never happened. Most of the cases were Unopposed, the only lawyer present the bank’s- almost always an attorney from one of several law firms around Florida known as foreclosure mills, assigned the case by an automated computer system-who was sometimes not even physically there, just voice with a law degree on the court’s speakerphone, knocking off fourteen cases in a an half-hour call, and each case ended with the Judge asking, ‘Anything unusual about his file? Anything missing?’ and then setting a date for a foreclosure auction two floors down in Room 202…”
This scary description comes very close to what I encountered when I agreed to take on some pro bono foreclosure defense work for clients of The Cleveland Legal Aid Society after I left the Ohio Attorney General’s office in May of 2008. Foreclosure mill lawyers throughout Ohio had the field to themselves. Taking people’s homes and disrupting people’s lives on behalf of plaintiffs who lacked the right to sue, who sometimes didn’t exist at all.
One would think that after years of media scrutiny by award winning journalists like Pro Publica, Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times and 60 Minutes who exposed the robo-signing assembly line in Georgia where the underpaid employees were encouraged to sign legal documents with someone else’s name that Bank of America, Wells Fargo GMAC, Citicorp and dozens of growing non-bank servicers like Ocwen and Nationstar would have been shamed into improving their business practices.
One would think that after investigations by 50 State Attorneys General, the United States Justice Department and the Office of the Controller of the Currency resulting in the payment of Billions of dollars in Settlement and the criminal conviction of LPS employees that those same servicers and their lawyers would have learned their lesson and started to act honestly in the foreclosure process.
One would think that after being sued thousands of times under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and State Consumer and Debt Collections statutes that the lawyers who make millions foreclosing on their neighbors homes would have started to slow down their mills, and take care to make sure that the pleadings they file in court are meticulously documented and honestly presented.
But the sad news is that the Wall Street Bond Trusts, Loan Servicers and Foreclosure Mills who we continue to take on every day in our law practice have learned nothing from the Shame, Fines and Settlement Costs or their losses in court. Rather than changing their business practices, they have just treated this scrutiny as a cost of doing business and continued to engage in business practices and courtroom tactics that would not be tolerated in any other arena.
Two recent pleadings filed in cases involving our firms clients prove the point that lenders, loan servicers and their foreclosure mill lawyers continue to conduct business in the same abhorrent, anti-consumer manner as the were back in 2008 when I step into the fray representing homeowners and consumers. This week in Richland County Common Pleas Court Judge James Henson vacated a 2009 foreclosure judgment and dismissed the case finding:
“The court notes that this case proceeded through this court during 2009 and early 2010, prior to the national revelation of the big bank robo-signing scandals in September 2010. This case has the odor of robo-signing all over it. From various documents signed by the same person on behalf of different entities, to back dated assignments, to an attempt to file “corrective assignments”, everything Plaintiff has attempted in this case points to a large, inefficient bureaucracy, puffed up in the hubris of its size and power, and heedless of the injury of its transgressions inflict on the rule of law…”
A copy of the full decision is here:warner bond 2013 06 12 order granting def mtv jdgmt and dismissi-1
In our Class Action case against Bank of America for failing to convert HAMP Trial Payment Plans to Permanent Modifications comes this declaration from a Bank of America insider testifying to the fact that they ignored HAMP modification applications on purpose, purposely asked homeowners resubmit their documents when they had already been submitted and arbitrarily denied dozens of modifications to meet internal goals. Read the Decl_of_William_Wilson
What this tells me as I roll up my sleeves and get to work on behalf of my clients is that there is much work to be done. That the righting of wrongs in the Mortgage arena is going to be up to individual Lawyers and Law Firms like ours and our brave clients who are willing to take on these powerful financial institutions raising issues one case at a time and bringing strategic class action cases.
Five years since leaving public office I am rested and ready for the fight.