Monday, November 21, 2011

Shameless Head Of Embattled NY F'closure Mill Sweatshop Acknowledges Being On Road To Ruin; Responds To Recent Revelations By 'Shooting The Messenger'

Author and columnist Joe Nocera writes in The New York Times:

  • Mr. Nocera — You have destroyed everything and everyone related to Steven J. Baum PC. It took 40 years to build this firm and three weeks to tear down.”

  • Thus began a lengthy e-mail that I received, on Thursday evening, from Steven J. Baum, the owner of his eponymous law firm, the largest “foreclosure mill” in New York State. Foreclosure mills, of course, are firms that represent banks and servicers trying to foreclose on the millions of homeowners who have defaulted since the housing bubble burst.

  • Baum was referring to a column I had written in late October after a former employee had sent me some photographs of the firm’s 2010 Halloween party.(1) They showed employees wearing costumes that mocked people who had lost their homes; the ex-employee who forwarded the pictures had described them as “appalling.”

  • A lot of people agreed. Representative Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, wrote the firm a letter demanding documents and records. In New York, the attorney general’s office ratcheted up its investigation of the firm; I heard that investigators were looking for more photographs of Baum Halloween parties.

  • Occupy Buffalo protesters picketed Baum’s offices in nearby Amherst, N.Y. And, not least, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which own or guarantee half the country’s mortgages, issued new rules forbidding servicers of their mortgages from using Steven J. Baum.

  • None of which was why I had contacted Baum’s press spokesman earlier this week. What had caught my eye was an article in The Buffalo News headlined, “Foreclosure law firm is battling rule on accuracy.”

  • The article described a court hearing a few weeks ago during which the Baum firm asked the judge to reject — as unconstitutional! — a year-old rule that foreclosure lawyers must attest to the validity of the mortgage documents held by their bank and servicer clients.

  • You would think that any lawyer worth his salt would be happy to affirm that his client was using valid documents to toss someone out of a house. But not, apparently, Steven J. Baum.

  • In fact, this case matters a lot more than a creepy Halloween party. In October 2010, reacting to the robo-signing scandal, the judge overseeing the New York State court system had issued an order commanding that lawyers representing banks and servicers sign a document “affirming” that their clients had reviewed the accuracy of the documents and records — and that the documents were, indeed, accurate.


  • There is blood on your hands for this one, Joe,” he wrote at the end of that second e-mail. “I will never, ever forgive you for this.”

  • I think that’s what they call shooting the messenger.

For the column, see Baum Weighs In After Uproar.

(1) Joe Nocera: What the Costumes Reveal (October 29, 2011).

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