Saturday, April 5, 2008

Big Profits By Assembly Line "Foreclosure Mill" Law Firms Attract Interest From Private Equity Investment Firms

In Tampa, Florida, The Tampa Tribune reports:

  • Their work can be so repetitive that some are known, disparagingly or not, as "foreclosure mills." But the niche field of foreclosure law is profiting enormously from the boom in Florida home foreclosures and is on a hiring spree. [...] Because many law firms file foreclosures across Florida, the biggest firms' monthly foreclosure caseload can grow to a thousand or more, with each case carrying a potential attorney fee of up to $1,200 - although it's not clear what the firms' profit margin is.


  • The foreclosure business is so strong that it has caught the eye of private equity investment firms, which buy companies using equity and debt financing. Private equity firms have begun buying the back-office foreclosure-processing operations from big law firms and are offering law firms outsourced foreclosure help. These outsourcing companies are keen on moving into Florida.

For more, see Law Firms Cash In On Foreclosures (A surge in foreclosure filings has Florida law firms scrambling for more staff).

Friday, April 4, 2008

Countrywide, Counsel Getting Slammed Around The Country

A story was run recently in The Atlanta Journal Constitution on a fight Countrywide Home Loans faces with the U.S. Trustee in a Georgia Federal bankruptcy court for alleged mistakes and/or misconduct during the course of one particular consumer bankruptcy case. The story also describes the wrath directed towards Countrywide by judges around the country as a result of its "missteps" committed both in the servicing of home loans and in its conduct in the courts:

  • A Texas judge, Jeff Bohm, rebuked Countrywide, Atlanta-based McCalla Raymer and a Texas law firm in a 72-page ruling [Judge Bohm's two-part ruling - Part I and Part II]. He found fault with each of the three parties' handling of a case in which Countrywide sought permission to foreclose on a homeowner who was up to date on payments. The Texas law firm hired by McCalla Raymer was singled out by the judge. "Above all else, what kind of culture condones its lawyers lying to the court and then retreating to the office hoping that the Court will forget about the whole matter?" Bohm wrote.


  • In Ohio and Florida, the U.S. Trustee's office has filed complaints in the past month seeking sanctions against Countrywide. In Ohio, Countrywide sought payments in bankruptcy court from a homeowner who had already paid off Countrywide. In Florida, Countrywide tried three times to foreclose on a homeowner who no longer owed Countrywide any money on the property.

  • Countrywide has already been sanctioned in other cases. A judge in Pennsylvania sanctioned the lender for trying to foreclose on a couple in that state who had made required payments "like clockwork," according to the judge.

  • Countrywide's Texas law firm was hit with a $75,000 sanction for its behavior in a case that included court filings that were "erroneous" and "clearly legal nonsense."

  • A judge in North Carolina sanctioned Countrywide for twice changing the locks on a house that it had sought to repossess, even though the foreclosure had been stopped by a bankruptcy filing. Countrywide's agents disposed of the family's Christmas ornaments, family pictures and a christening dress when it improperly seized the home. "It is difficult to imagine more deliberate, unwarranted and egregious conduct," Judge Catharine R. Carruthers wrote when sanctioning Countrywide.

For the article, see Couple lose home in Countrywide dispute, but may yet win (Feds seek sanctions, say lender abused bankruptcy laws).

For an article examining mortgage companies frequent non-compliance with law in consumer bankruptcy cases, see Misbehavior and Mistake in Bankruptcy Mortgage Claims, by Katherine M. Porter University of Iowa - College of Law.

Go here for more on recent Countrywide problems with consumers.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Ohio Attorneys Organizing In Defense Of Homeowners Facing Foreclosure

In Ohio, The Columbus Dispatch reports:

  • Low-income Ohioans facing foreclosure now have access to free legal help. Gov. Ted Strickland and the Ohio Bar Association have mobilized 1,100 lawyers statewide to offer free legal services to those Ohioans who earn $54,000 or less to help them keep their homes. [...] In addition to free legal help, the campaign also offers homeowners a new foreclosure hot line, 1-888-404-4674, to call for help. Consumers can also access information on the Web site

For more, see Low-income Ohioans facing foreclosure offered free legal aid.

See also State adds free legal aid to foreclosure prevention effort:

  • Gov. Ted Strickland, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer and several other state officials gathered Tuesday to announce it has added the legal component to its Save the Dream initiative [... . S]tate officials last month sent letters to more than 34,000 registered Ohio attorneys requesting they help provide free legal aid. As of Tuesday, more than 1,100 attorneys have registered. About 350 of those attorneys have received foreclosure training from the Ohio State Bar Association, while more training sessions are scheduled, officials said.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

More Attorneys Coming Forward To Represent Homeowners In Predatory Lending Cases

In New York City, the Staten Island Advance reports:

  • [T]he legal landscape is changing and more local lawyers are willing to represent homeowners against banks that made high-interest, problematic subprime loans. "Their ranks have been growing. Over the last two weeks, we've gotten several more private attorneys calling to say they can handle cases," said Margaret Becker, director of the Homeowner Defense Project at Staten Island Legal Services in St. George.


  • A Harvard Law School graduate who said she was once misled on the interest rate she received on a home equity line of credit, Ms. Becker recently conducted a course on foreclosure defense for members of the Richmond County Bar Association.

  • She makes a point of telling attorneys that they can win back their fees and expenses from banks if they are successful in their claims against those lenders. That's important because most people in default don't have the money to pay for lawyers, and proving mortgage fraud can be a complex and costly process.

  • One legal recruit is Robert Brown, an Annadale resident and retired New York City police captain who graduated from St. John University's Law School in 2000. Brown is carving out a niche bringing violation of truth-in-lending claims on behalf of the clients he represents, [...].

For more, see New legal arsenal to battle bad loans.

For a story involving a Staten Island couple who recently obtained a favorable court decision against a mortgage lender for violating a New York State anti-predatory lending statute, see:

For other posts on homeowners using Federal & state consumer protection statutes to try and undo bad mortgage loans, Go Here and Go Here.

Editorial Note:

The significance of attorney "fee shifting" statutes, which are commonly a part of Federal and state consumer protection statutes, anti-unfair labor statutes, civil rights cases, etc. and allow for attorneys to win back their legal fees and expenses from the losing party in a successful case, can't be emphasized enough. For an example of one case where the lawyers representing aggrieved parties were allowed to win back their legal fees as a result of such a "fee shifting" statute, see NY BigLaw Leader Scores $1 Million Fee in Pro Bono Case (or go here for the actual court decision itself).

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Gerogia Attempts To Address Confusion From Home Foreclosures By Companies Without Legal Standing

In Georgia, an opinion article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution addresses the confusion taking place with home foreclosures in the state where the company bringing the foreclosure action doesn't own the promissory note being enforced:

  • The General Assembly is attempting to reduce the confusion by requiring clear proof of mortgage ownership before a foreclosure can proceed. But its efforts have been stymied by banks reluctant to come clean on ownership, and there are suggestions the Legislature may put off definitive action until next year.


  • "We want to be able to be certain that our clients are being foreclosed on by the legal entity that has standing," says William Brennan, director of Atlanta Legal Aid's Home Defense Program. "And we want to know who to talk to about the foreclosure. Now, we often don't know who holds the note."


  • Even if 5,000 investors own a piece of a mortgage, the mortgage owner is considered to be the trustee bank that manages the pool. But rather than have to deal with desperate homeowners, those banks prefer to let contractual servicers —- companies that collect the monthly payments or record the deeds —- become the public face of foreclosure while they lurk in the shadows. Those servicing agencies have no incentive to negotiate with borrowers. Lawyers have complained to the Legislature that they can't even get a live person on the phone to talk about a pending foreclosure, leaving homeowners stranded.

For more, see Owning up to a crisis (Georgians faced with foreclosure have a right to know who exactly holds their mortgage) (if link expires, try here).

For other posts that reference the sloppiness and carelessness of some mortgage lenders and their attorneys in connection with their mortgage loan documents, Go Here , Go Here , Go Here , Go Here, and Go Here. missing mortgage foreclosure docs beta

Monday, March 31, 2008

Scrutiny Increases As Profits Mount For "The Foreclosure Machine"

According to a column in The New York Times:

  • Nobody wins when a home enters foreclosure — neither the borrower, who is evicted, nor the lender, who takes a loss when the home is resold. That’s the conventional wisdom, anyway.

  • The reality is very different. Behind the scenes in these dramas, a small army of law firms and default servicing companies, who represent mortgage lenders, have been raking in mounting profits. These little-known firms assess legal fees and a host of other charges, calculate what the borrowers owe and draw up the documents required to remove them from their homes.

  • As the subprime mortgage crisis has spread, the volume of the business has soared, and firms that handle loan defaults have been the primary beneficiaries. Law firms, paid by the number of motions filed in foreclosure cases, have sometimes issued a flurry of claims without regard for the requirements of bankruptcy law, several judges say.


  • Law firms and default servicing operations that process large numbers of cases have made it harder for borrowers to design repayment plans, or workouts, consumer lawyers say. “As I talk to people around the country, they all unanimously state that the foreclosure mills are impediments to loan workouts,” [one consumer advocate] said.

For more, see Foreclosure Machine Thrives on Woes (if no subscription, try here).

Go here , go here , and go here for posts on questionable mortgage servicing practices.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

NYS Anti-Predatory Loan May Leave Mortgage Holders Holding The Bag

A client newsletter from the law firm Kelley Drye & Warren LLP contains a discussion of a recent court decision by a New York State trial judge which applied a state anti-predatory lending statute in favor of the borrower and which potentially can leave mortgage lenders holding loans that were originated in violation of this statute holding the bag. The discussion begins as follows:

  • In an opinion that may well mark a rise in predatory lending claims and an expansion in the scope of lender liability, the New York Supreme Court recently found in favor of a homeowner who, in defending a motion for summary judgment in a foreclosure action, alleged that he was the victim of predatory lending practices prohibited by New York Banking Law §6-L. The court, in LaSalle Bank, N.A. v. Shearon, No. 100255/2007, 2008 WL 268449 (N.Y. Sup. Jan. 28, 2008), denied LaSalle’s motion and granted summary judgment for the homeowner based on his defenses under the state’s anti-predatory lending law. A hearing on damages is pending.

For more, including the reasons why the article's author believes the court’s decision in Shearon is noteworthy, see LaSalle Bank v. Shearon: A Harbinger of Things to Come (New York Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Borrower on Defensive Claims Under State’s Anti-Predatory Lending Law).

To view the trial judge's decision, see LaSalle Bank,N.A. v. Shearon, No. 100255/2007, 2008 WL 268449 (N.Y. Sup. Jan. 28, 2008).

For a February 3, 2008 media article from the Staten Island Advance reporting this story, see Stuck with a bad loan, a Staten Island family fights back (if link expires, try here).

For other posts on homeowners using Federal & state consumer protection statutes to try and undo bad mortgage loans, Go Here and Go Here.

Editor's Note:

For those unfamiliar with the New York judicial system, the "New York Supreme Court" is simply what the state calls its trial courts, not to be confused with the state's highest court - the New York Court of Appeals. So, while this case could potentially have significant ramifications, it is simply one decision by one trial judge which has yet to be reviewed by a state intermediate appellate court or the state high court. While there may be cause for celebrating this case in the future, consumer advocates who have already begun wild celebrations may well consider "putting the cork back in the champagne bottle" for the time being.